Calcium for strong bones – find out more Tonight on ITV!

14 Sep 2017

The Tonight Programme on ITV is taking an interesting look at the role fats play in all of our diets this evening - including how cutting out calcium and dairy could cause problems for our bone health in later life.

One of our clinical advisors, Professor Susan Lanham-New from the University of Surrey, features in the programme talking about the key role dairy plays in our diet and how it is important to get calcium from both dairy and – for those following a dairy-free diet – non-dairy sources.

The programme looks at some of the issues we raised earlier this year in our A Message to My Younger Self campaign – which has been hugely successful at highlighting the important role eating a well-balanced diet and taking regular weight-bearing exercise plays in keeping our bones healthy and strong.

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 diet and nutrition information or get in touch with our Helpline on 0808 800 0035.

The role calcium and dairy play in our diets can often lead to debate. For more information on this topic, take a look at our useful Q&A below:

Osteoporosis and dairy

Are vegans 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.’

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.

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.

Why is dairy so often linked to bone health?

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 on the subject 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.

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