National Osteoporosis Society media campaign starts conversations about healthy eating

13 Apr 2017

The launch of the National Osteoporosis Society’s Message to My Younger Self campaign generated extensive press coverage this week, highlighting crucial messages to millions of people across the UK about the importance of healthy eating for strong bones.

Our story – which warned that current eating habits of teenagers and young adults could cause bone health problems in later life – was reported across the UK media, with some reports focusing on the dangers of diets which cut out some food groups such as dairy products.

This element of some of the reports generated a great deal of interest, particularly across the charity’s social media channels.

Responding to the issues raised over the role dairy plays in bone health, National Osteoporosis Society Clinical Director Fizz Thompson said the charity’s main message was to eat a healthy balanced diet including calcium for strong bones in all its forms.

“Dairy is just one way to get good amounts of calcium; it’s not better absorbed or preferable to non-dairy sources but there are significant amounts of calcium in a portion of dairy plus other nutrients so it’s easy for most people and it forms a large part of  most ‘western’ diets.

However there are lots of other non - dairy sources of calcium including  fortified soya products, pulses, nuts, seeds and white bread. Additionally, fresh fruit and vegetables contain a number of key vitamins, minerals and trace elements that are good for bones.

The National Osteoporosis Society is very clear in all information that good bone health is not just about calcium. We need a mixed, well - balanced diet with food from all the main food groups – fruit and vegetables; carbohydrates; dairy or alternatives; beans, pulses, fish, meat or other proteins to get all the nutrients our bones need.”

If you would like more information on non-dairy sources of calcium or to find out how eating a healthy, balanced diet can help your bone health, take a look at our website or get in touch with our Helpline on 0808 800 0035.

Q&A – osteoporosis and dairy

Was your ‘A Message to My Younger Self’ survey funded by the dairy industry?

No. Our survey of eating habits which was used as the basis for our Message to My Younger self campaign was funded entirely from unrestricted charitable income and received no funding from the dairy industry. The National Osteoporosis Society continues to promote the need for having a healthy, balanced diet that delivers the required daily amounts of both calcium and Vitamin D for good bone health.

Is the National Osteoporosis Society funded by dairy companies?

The National Osteoporosis Society has received less than 1% of our total income over the past ten years from partnerships with companies in the dairy industry. We do not endorse any products from companies and only operate in the best interest of people diagnosed with osteoporosis.

Is dairy bad for bones?

There is no good evidence for this.  The argument is that too much protein or grain foods creates high ‘acidity’ in the bloodstream and that this results in calcium being ‘leeched from the bones’ to balance things out, causing osteoporosis and fractures. To avoid this problem, it is claimed we need an ‘alkaline diet’ which means we should eliminate foods such as dairy products .  Although there is some truth in the process that they describe, the current consensus expert view is that a well balance healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables should ensure the acidity- alkalinity balance is maintained.  Eliminating whole groups of foods isn’t necessary, in fact it risks cutting out essential nutrients for bone health.

Is it true that countries where people eat less dairy have less osteoporosis and fewer fractures?

That may be true but it doesn’t prove one causes the other. There will be many other factors such as  body type, life expectancy, levels of physical activity, vitamin D levels due to sunlight exposure that could affect bone strength.  Eating dairy won’t prevent osteoporosis but nor will it cause it.

Why does the National Osteoporosis Society highlight the importance of dairy so frequently?

Dairy is just one way to get good amounts of calcium, it’s not better absorbed or preferable to non-dairy sources but there are significant amounts of calcium in a portion of dairy plus other nutrients so it’s easy for most people and it forms a large part of  most ‘western’ diets.

However there are lots of other non - dairy sources of calcium – see our article or the vegan society website or call our helpline to discuss the options.

The National Osteoporosis Society is very clear in all our information that good bone health is not just about calcium - we need a mixed well - balanced diet with food from all the main food groups – fruit and vegetables; carbohydrates; dairy or alternatives; beans, pulses, fish, meat or other proteins to get all the nutrients our bones need.

Does this report say vegans are more at risk of osteoporosis?

No.  As stated on our website:

‘If you don’t eat dairy products, you will need to include lots of other calcium-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, almonds, sesame seeds, dried fruit, pulses, fortified soya drinks and soya protein (tofu) in your diet. A vegetarian diet is not a risk factor for osteoporosis and vegetarians and vegans do not appear to have poorer bone health than the rest of the population.

For more information, download and read our article 'Vegan diets and bone health' from our members' magazine, Osteoporosis News.’

How can people who are lactose intolerant get more calcium into their diet?

Some people cannot tolerate lactose, the natural sugar found in milk, because they don’t produce enough lactase, the enzyme needed to digest lactose. When undigested lactose passes through the system unabsorbed, it will ferment in the large intestine, causing stomach cramps, bloating, flatulence and diarrhoea. Some people find they can tolerate small amounts. Lactose intolerance affects 5–10% of North Europeans and North Americans of European origin. This figure may be as high as 90% in some Asian, African and Caribbean populations. If you are lactose intolerant, make sure you enjoy plenty of non-dairy calcium-rich foods such as pilchards, sardines, curly kale, watercress, sesame seeds and tahini (sesame seed spread). You could also choose fortified foods, such as water, soya milk or bread with added calcium.

Do ‘clean foods’ cause osteoporosis ?

Fresh, unprocessed food are good for health generally including your bones because they will be ‘nutrient’ rich with more minerals and vitamins and often less salt.  However this is sometimes taken to extreme, with complete food groups being eliminated.  This risks us missing out on the nutrients that our bones need.  It’s all about balance - Public Health England examined all the evidence when they published their revised Eatwell Guide last year and they stated once again that we need sensible proportions from the different food groups to ensure good health.

Comments (2)

Dom Hall

Thanks Damian, please read through the Q&A posted above, this information should provide answers to your questions.

Damian Connolly

How does the Society respond to any allegations of bias towards dairy given that it has received support (presumably financial) from the dairy industry? (Eg a2 Milk UK and Yoplait UK Ltd) The Society has also received support from various pharmaceutical and vitamin supplement companies (e.g. Eli Lilly, Rosemont, Takeda, Vitabiotics, etc.). The Society states that there is no good evidence that dairy consumption actually promotes osteoporosis. However, if there is such a link, it follows that companies selling treatments and supplements for osteoporosis will profit from it. What is the Society's view on this as a charity that endorses dairy and receives support from such companies? How does the Society address conflicts of interest?

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