Friday, 2 August 2013

5 Common Nutrition Myths De-bunked Series: Myth No 1 - Dairy Is Essential For Bone Health

Nutrition information is constantly being thrown at us from all sides, a lot of facts contradicting  another, making it very difficult to know what is truth and what is myth.

What is truth is a lot of the "facts" are brought to us by large association driven sectors such as the dairy industry.  Government policy is driven by pressure from these groups to ensure their products sell, so they incorporate them into legislation like the food pyramids. 

It is time to debunk these myths once and for all! As part of this 5 part series I will be examining five common nutrition claims and revealing the truth! 

Don't always believe what you are told! 

Myth No 1: Dairy Is Essential for Bone Health

This myth particularly gets my goat! For years we have been led to believe that dairy is so important in our diets as the optimal source of calcium. Mothers across the country threw milk by the pint-full into their little darlings, safe in the knowledge that even if little Timmy wasn't a great eater, at least he was drinking his milk. This despite the fact that if Timmy was drinking gallons of the white stuff he was probably missing out on other vital nutrients he should have been eating in food.

Cow's Milk Is Not Human Food
First things first, cows milk was never designed to be drank by humans! No other mammal on earth extracts the milk of another mammal and drinks it indefinitely! It is quite ridiculous when you consider that cow's milk is designed for making calves fat, and it is very good at doing that! While the use of hormones is banned in UK/Ireland, it is still used in some US farms to increase lactation levels in cows, which is inevitably going to be passed on through the milk to you. Bottom line is this - cows milk is for cows not humans. (Though admittedly drinking raw from the cow like below is a lot healthier!)
The sad reality is that the milk we should be feeding our children; breastmilk, is largely underused. We need to be encouraged more to breastfeed our children and more support needs to be given to those who wish to continue breastfeeding past 6 months. A debate for another day.....

My Bones Need It! 
Secondly, milk is not the excellent source of calcium we have all been lead to believe! This myth stems from the fact that a cup of milk contains approximately 300mg of calcium. Sounds impressive right? It is this information that the Dairy Council come armed with when suggesting we get our three portions of dairy a day. However what scientific studies are showing is that not only is the calcium in cows milk (particularly in pasteurised milk) very poorly absorbed by our bones, but it can actually be detrimental to bone health!
This is because animal proteins (which milk and milk products are) are very acidic on the body. When something throws our body off it's pH balance it must be neutralised. The irony is that calcium in itself is actually an excellent pH buffer so it is leached from the bones to neutralise the acidic environment created. Hence once the process is complete what you are actually left with is a calcium deficit!

This truth can further be highlighted in the fact that of those countries consuming the highest levels of dairy eg. Ireland, Austria and Holland, have in fact got the highest incidences of osteoporosis. 
So there you have it: milk is not the powerhouse of nutrition we have been lead to believe, and there are other great sources of calcium which also happen to be much more nutrient rich than milk. 

What About My Bone Health? 
If we are not getting our calcium from dairy, where should be get it from? The truth is there are many other sources of calcium in the diet which are often overlooked, and what is more, many of them come ready "packaged" with other bone protecting minerals like magnesium, Vitamin K, and Vitamin D. 

Good sources of calcium include almonds, green leafy vegetables such as kale, bok choy, oranges and molasses.

Include these alternative sources frequently throughout the day to ensure you get your 800mg calcium per day (FSAI, 2009) 

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