Getting enough of these two key vitamins and minerals is crucial to reducing osteoporosis risk. Because Americans spend so much time indoors, many of us are lacking in Vitamin D. While the arcane debate about supplements vs. sunlight rages on, women continue to be deficient and therefore continue to be at high risk for osteoporosis. Many women whose test results show a Vitamin D deficiency will need both supplements and increased exposure to natural sunlight. Taking a 10-30 minute daily walk in the morning or evening without sunscreen is often enough to start improving Vitamin D status. Since you’ll be indoors during the hottest part of the day—or using a natural, nontoxic sunscreen in the scorching midday sun—you won’t be increasing skin cancer risk.
Vitamin D2 is a synthetic form that’s not very well absorbed. So if you plan to use supplements, choose Vitamin D3 (the natural form). For the growing number of people who are allergic to wool or just avoiding animal products altogether, Vegan Vitamin D3 is available from Country Life and other reputable brands. Vitamin D supplementation is a complex issue, but every woman needs to educate herself and make her own informed decision. To learn more, check out this extremely informative article on Vitamin D from Precision Nutrition. It’s important to have your Vitamin D level tested before beginning supplementation, and then get it retested regularly to see if the supplements are helping.
Decades ago, when the vitamins and minerals were first being discovered, doctors recommended cow’s milk and milk products (cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese) to women as way to reduce risk of osteoporosis. However, modern researchers have discovered there’s a lot more to the story. It’s a scientific fact that cow’s milk products are high in calcium; no one disagrees about that. However, scientists have discovered cow’s milk is also high in cholesterol (which increases heart disease risk), saturated fat (which increases type 2 diabetes risk), IGF-1 (which raises cancer risk by helping tumors grow and proliferate ), and casein (which is also strongly linked to cancer in animal studies). Cholesterol, saturated fat, IGF-1, and casein are natural components of cow’s milk—not added chemicals. Therefore, they’re present even in organic and/or grass-fed or RBGH-free milk. The high levels of these compounds are actually beneficial to calves, but harmful to adult humans!
Drinking cow’s milk to prevent osteoporosis (which often strikes women in their 60s, 70s, and 80s), while increasing heart disease, diabetes, and cancer (which often strike women in their 40s or 50s), wouldn’t make logical sense.
When drinking non-organic cow’s milk, women are exposed to the additional burden of pesticides, antibiotics, and synthetic hormones. On non-organic farms cows are typically fed GMO corn and other GMO crops, which have a negative impact on the cows (and their milk), on the men and women who work on or near the farms, and on you, the consumer drinking the milk. For more on GMO foods, visit SeedsOfDeception.com or check out the excellent books Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette, both by Jeffrey M. Smith.
In addition to the issues above which affect all women, some women can consume NO dairy products at all because of food allergies. While women with classic (IgE) allergies to milk are a relatively small percentage of the population, it’s still on the top 8 allergens list. In contrast to dairy allergies, cow’s milk sensitivities and lactose intolerance are much more widespread and often go undiagnosed. Frequent consumption of the foods that people have sensitivities to can lead to unwanted weight gain, further increasing heart disease risk. If you are concerned that you might have a sensitivity or delayed reaction allergy to cow’s milk, a simple, inexpensive blood test for IgG food allergies can remove the guesswork. Some popular dietary patterns, like Vegan and Paleo, are automatically dairy-free. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many people who follow other popular eating styles—such as Organic, Local, Non-GMO, Slow Food, the Mediterranean diet, Vegetarian, etc.—start feeling better when they reduce or eliminate cow’s milk dairy products.
The dairy industry has tried to create a wide variety of products to solve these various problems. It markets skim milk to people who’re concerned about saturated fat. Skim milk truly does contain far less saturated fat (it’s not just industry spin). But unfortunately, skim milk contains a higher percentage of casein than whole milk, and as you learned, casein actually increases cancer risk. Then the dairy industry introduced lactose-free milk (marketed as Lactaid) to women with lactose intolerance. But this still contains saturated fat, cholesterol, IGF-1, and casein. Some lactose intolerant women can tolerate cheese, but not milk. However, cheese and cream cheese have even more saturated fat than milk!
Some women feel that 1% or 2% milk are healthy choices, since they’re only 1 or 2% fat. What’s the harm in just 1% of anything? However, industry measures fat content by weight. Since milk (like all beverages) is mostly water, of course the fat content looks like a tiny percentage. In reality, 1% milk has 25% of calories from fat! 2% milk has 38% of calories from fat. And whole milk has a whopping 50% of calories from fat. Incredibly, dairy products are actually a larger supplier of saturated fat in the American diet than red meat. So much for 1% milk as a healthy choice.
Rather than trying to alter the chemical composition of cow’s milk to have less fat or less lactose, why not just skip dairy products altogether and get calcium from other sources? Women with dairy allergies, sensitivities, or lactose intolerance are often told to use calcium supplements instead of dairy. (In fact, many other foods, such as kale, contain high levels of calcium.) However, calcium supplements are inexpensive, widely available, and beneficial for some patients. Calcium supplements work best when combined into a calcium-magnesium blend. If you do choose to take calcium supplements, make sure you let your doctor know (to prevent any adverse reactions with your prescription medications).
Clearly those with a dairy allergy need to avoid cow’s milk. But what does all this research mean for healthy women trying to prevent osteoporosis? It means you should eat less dairy and more calcium-rich fruits & vegetables, and beans.
- Dried Figs
- Currants (fresh or dried)
- Whole oranges & fresh squeezed orange juice
- Kale (This superfood is great boiled, dried into crunchy kale chips, or as an ingredient in a fresh squeezed juice with other veggies like carrots, celery, cucumber & lemon. Unlike many other vegetables, kale actually tastes better boiled than steamed, and still retains significant nutritional value after cooking.)
- Cooked collard greens
- Broccoli & Broccoli raab (Eat them raw or steamed, not boiled.)
- Fresh arugula
- Blackstrap molasses
- Navy beans (Sort, rinse, soak, & cook the dry beans or purchase the cooked beans in BPA-free cans or Tetra-Pak shelf-stable containers)
- Smoothies with frozen bananas, fresh or frozen berries, and Vega One protein powder (which is fortified with calcium)
- Raw almond butter & whole raw almonds
- Almond milk (Be sure to choose unsweetened; plain or vanilla are both good)
- Almond yogurt or almond Greek yogurt (Although they contain some added sugar, it’s about the same or less sugar as found in dairy yogurt. Almond yogurts are also a good source of probiotics.)
- Hemp milk (Be sure to choose unsweetened. The vanilla flavor is great for baking or in smoothies. Hemp milk, like hemp seeds and hemp protein, does not contain THC.)
- Coconut kefir (Although coconut kefir contains some added sugar, it has the same or less sugar than many brands of dairy yogurt. Coconut kefir is a good source of probiotics, and comes in yummy flavors like vanilla and strawberry.)
(Some other plant foods are high in calcium, but also have oxalates, which stop you from absorbing the calcium. Examples: spinach, Swiss chard, rhubarb, beet greens, sesame seeds, and sesame tahini. These are all very healthy foods; just don’t rely on them as sources of calcium.)
Missed last month’s column? Read it now:
Easy Steps to Reduce Your Osteoporosis Risk Healthy Eating Made Easy Choosing the Healthiest Energy Bars in 2014 Have a Home Gym Cheaply and with Little Space, Part 2 Have a Home Gym Cheaply and with Little Space, Part 1 Updated: Back Pain 7 Healthy Snacks to Power You Through Physical Therapy and Beyond 7 Things You Didn’t Know About Juicing Getting in Shape…with Takeout Food? Gliding Discs for Exercise with Arthritis Top 6 Questions for Choosing the Best Weight Loss Plan for YOU This St. Patrick’s Day, Go Green for Real Fall Prevention for Older Adults 3 Tips for Exercising with Multiple Sclerosis Fitness for People with Parkinson’s Customized Exercises for People with Back Pain What Should People Look for When Hiring a Personal Trainer? How do trainers know what program is right for their clients? Who Benefits the Most from a Personal Trainer? Motivate Yourself to Better Health Three Dimensional Fitness