Raw Food Diets, Calcium and Osteoporosis

by Susan on January 17, 2010

We recently discussed how a person on a raw food diet gets enough protein (here). Another question that comes up frequently is, what about calcium? How can you protect yourself from osteoporosis if you are not eating dairy products?  Especially since we have been taught for years that we need to be eating dairy products to get adequate calcium. The raw food diet is typically vegan (no animal products), it is normally dairy free. Some raw foodists do consume raw dairy.

Where does calcium come from? It comes from the earth. Plants absorb the mineral from the soil through their roots and then disseminate it throughout their leaves, stems, etc. Animals eat the plants to get their calcium. Plants are loaded with minerals, enough to support the skeletal frames of the largest animals on the planet.

Why do we need calcium? Calcium is an essential mineral. 99% of our calcium is found in the bones. The other 1% is circulating through our blood stream, organs and tissues. Calcium is crucial for heart function, muscle development, regulation of nerve tissue and blood vessel function as well as skeletal support.

What happens if we don’t get enough calcium?
If you are not getting enough calcium, your body will steal it from your bones and teeth, weakening them.

What is osteoporosis?
Characterized by a loss of bone density, osteoporosis is a disease where bones become fragile and break easily. It is estimated that in the U.S. over ten million people suffer from osteoporosis. Millions more have low bone mass called Osteopenia.

What are the causes of osteoporosis?
Here is where it gets interesting. We have always been taught if we get enough calcium, (as in consumption of dairy products) that will protect us against osteoporosis. But it is more complicated than that. Many studies are showing that osteoporosis is directly tied to an over consumption of animal proteins. To complicate matters even more, consumption of dairy has been linked to many cancers, heart disease and diabetes.

Many studies and peer-reviewed scientific journals have found “a direct and consistent association between animal protein consumption and calcium loss in urine.” (Dr. Isac: The Truth about Protein and Calcium)

“But as your body digests protein, it releases acids into the bloodstream, which the body neutralizes by drawing calcium from the bones.” (Harvard School of Public Health)

It is important to note that this calcium loss does not occur when plant based proteins are consumed.

What are the best plant based sources of calcium? Good sources of calcium can be found in dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, broccoli, cabbage, parsley and watercress. Dried figs and dates along with nuts, especially almonds and Brazil nuts also contain significant calcium. Sesame seeds and tahini are very rich in calcium. Seaweed can be another great source.

Other ways to protect your bones: Regular, weight-bearing exercise is very important to maintaining bone density. Making sure you get enough vitamin D and also Vitamin K (found in green leafy vegetables) is essential. And do get your calcium. Just be informed when you are considering the source.

An interesting article on Dairy by the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine can be found HERE

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In writing this article, I am not trying to give you personal medical advice. My attempt is to bring to light nutritional information that tends to get lost in main stream media. Just more food for thought, so you can make your own informed decisions.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

bitt January 17, 2010 at 4:28 pm

very personal to me as my mom has osteoporosis. she was able to get off her medications through a lot of weight-bearing exercise but she also eats a lot of greens (not as many as a raw foodie but more than the average american i’m sure). thanks for a great article.

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Neven January 17, 2010 at 10:11 pm

Very nice well written article. I believe in my heart this is true, but it is hard to convince my family. They are firm believers in animal protein and dairy.

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Brooke January 18, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Thank you for this article. It’s kind of amazing to think about this stuff and how manipulated our society has become. Why do people believe that we need animal products for essential minerals? The mainstream media has such a strangle hold on the population’s beliefs. I try to explain time and again that dairy has been implicated in arthritis, sinusitis, and other -itis diseases which are caused by inflammation, but I think most people do not want to believe that the media and corporations are scamming us into buying things that are not just unhealthy, but are also harming us.

I like David Wolfe’s research into this area and how strong bones are built from silica and magnesium (I think?) instead of calcium.

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Nancy Zare, WellnessWiz January 18, 2010 at 1:03 pm

I was aware of this information and commend you for bringing it to our attention. One other factor to mention is acidity. Animal food create lots of acid waste. To buffer the blood which must be alkaline (7.365 to be precise), the body steals minerals such as calcium from our bones. Besides eating alkaline foods, another way to boost one’s calcium levels is through ionized water (Kangen water). True Kangen water is highly alkaline, contains lots of anti-oxidants and oxygen, and its structure is hexagonal, micro-clusters. For people who need to alkalize their bodies fast or who are unable to alter their diet, Kangen water is an answer.

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Susan January 18, 2010 at 1:19 pm

I am going to be writing a whole article on acidity. Just trying to bring it is easy to digest pieces! :-)

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Amritakripa January 19, 2010 at 2:01 am

Many thanks for your stunning blog and inspiring thoughts. I have worked with the wholefood supplement company – MegaFood – for many years. One of the most common questions people call about is why the calcium dose in our products is so low. Most say that they have been advised to take at least 1500mg of supplemental calcium daily. Very few have been told to consider that there are many forms of the mineral – some more bioavailable than others. Most of them are concerned because they feel they do not eat enough dairy and rarely do they mention that they have been told to consider leafy greens or other fresh foods as a reliable source. So thanks again for your writing. I will be sharing this on facebook.

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ELENA January 20, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Love the quick, straight to the point approach of your article. Great information.

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Damon January 20, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Well done. Now if only there were a multi-million dollar advertising strategy in place to market leafy greens instead of dairy and beef. So sad…

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Vegetarian Recipes February 18, 2010 at 6:50 pm

Great article. Most people believe the only way to get calcium is through dairy – little do they know that you don’t actually absorb as much as what is actually contained in the milk/yoghurt/etc. My kids have grown up on rice milk and won’t even touch cows milk – according to them it is ‘yucky milk’! People look at you weirdly when you say you can get calcium from greens and sesame seeds and other plant foods. Meanwhile their health isn’t the best and you are glowing!
It is also interesting to note that there are lower levels of osteo in lower dairy consuming countries than the countries that eat a lot of animal and dairy products.

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Rose Willey February 21, 2010 at 10:41 pm

Thank you for this great article. I was aware of the acidic in animal meat. I have a severe case of osteoporosis. I broke my entire vetebral spine. I have a BMD of -5.0. It is one of the worst cases for a woman my age(46). I hope you can share other research and sources of help for me. I had always believed in dairy and it did not help me. I am looking for any new research on interventions to stop my bone loss. Thanks,

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Rose February 21, 2010 at 10:50 pm

I have been prescribed FORTEO injections for my bone loss. The side effects are very conerning. I know it is a synthetic drug; however, my drs have informed me that it will hep me grow bones. What are your thoughts about this? My osteo is Pregnancy related OSTO. I did not have a BMD prior to pregnancy to truly know if this bone loss is caused from pregnancy. However, it is one drs diagnosis.

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Susan February 22, 2010 at 7:55 am

I think you should do as much research as you can and get second opinions. I can’t give you any medical advice as I am not a doctor. I would really start searching. There are a lot of articles out there on this from major medical institutions. You could share them with your doctor…

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angela March 1, 2010 at 12:26 am

I’ve been doing a lot of research on this my family and I are vegan and try to eat as much raw foods as possible. What do you think about all the conflicting evidence of “cooked” greens and veggies having more iron in them? It’s so strange to me??!! What are your thoughts on this? Thanks! Love your site and so glad I found it!!

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Susan March 1, 2010 at 7:46 am

I don’t think they actually have “more” iron in them, as cooking wouldn’t create a nutrient. Some say it is more available. I don’t have the research on this. But think in this way, maybe you might get a little more of one nutrient but at the expense of many others? I have also heard that to better adsorb the iron you should eat spinach with citrus. I have heard a lot of things :-)

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Emily March 5, 2010 at 7:18 pm

“Many studies are showing that osteoporosis is directly tied to an over consumption of animal proteins. To complicate matters even more, consumption of dairy has been linked to many cancers, heart disease and diabetes.”

Do you have any information about which studies these are? I’m curious to read them.

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Susan March 6, 2010 at 11:32 am

You can start here: http://www.youngerthanyourage.com/4/ExcessiveCalcium.htm But just google…there is a ton of stuff. I also like this article: http://www.foodmatters.tv/_webapp_272927/The_Truth_About_Calcium_and_Osteoporosis. You can also do a google search

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Dia July 21, 2010 at 4:39 am

Another piece of the puzzle is gluten sensitivity/celiac – trying to get our bodies to digest wheat, & malabsorption of nutrients combine to make it hard for us to build bone! Good amounts Magnesium & Vit D are also components of the ‘whole picture’ – fortunately, greens are high in Mag (esp if organically grown – the phosphate fertilizers interfere with the plant’s ability to absorb Magnesium from the soil – home gardeners – add some Epsom Salts to your green gardens!)
& eating raw is a great way to be gluten free :) Here’s a great article from the 12 part series of issues that might be related to undiagnosed celiac (or gluten sensitivity!) http://celiacnurse.com/musculoskeletal-rickets-osteomalacia-osteopenia-osteoporosis-arthritis-and-myopathies-symptoms-in-undiagnosed-celiac-disease/

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Steve Kuz August 31, 2010 at 10:23 am

I am glad that someone else can see through the bs. My wife and I have been vegan for a few years now and we are always under attach from our friends and family as if our way of life is threatening there’s. when nutrional facts are presented, their years of social programming is challenged. there is a “does not compute look about them”. Its sad all this knowledge on veganism coming to the surface and you still see front to back ceiling ads on the bus telling us we are being bad to ourselves and our children if we don’t feed them dairy. The theme for these ads is FACT vs. FICTION one. Arrrggg.

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edward terry September 15, 2010 at 3:27 pm

hi thanks for a really good read.i have been living on a full raw food diet now for over a year.its only reading articles like this online that has helped me stay with it and work the problems i had.many thanks

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Cara June 13, 2011 at 8:28 am

I love your website! Very helpful to look for information about incorporating more healthy eating practices into one’s lifestyle. One item I wanted to add to the osteoporosis conversation though – is that there are hereditary as well as dietary factors that influence bone strength / calcium absorption and calcium loss in bones.
My grandmother, who suffered from osteoporosis – was vegetarian for most of her life. She was kind of ahead of her time in some ways – favored local produce, recycled everything, would not drive but walked everywhere, a few miles a day until her late 80’s, as well as regular dance and qi gong exercise. She ate limited soy as well as some dairy such as yoghurt, she would eat some cheese, but only from non-rennet using sources, and preferred goat milk products for dairy. Leafy greens she ate daily and made up the main course of her dinners, also ate whole grains, nuts, raisins, figs, etc. Didn’t smoke, occaisonally enjoyed a glass of wine. She was pretty healthy up until the last years of her life – but I am fairly certain her problems with osteo did not come from too much animal protein, or too much dairy. In her 90’s, her bones became so brittle they would just break, she wouldn’t even have to fall on them.

Other factors are: being female, caucasian, and slight body frame increase the likelihood. Also, hormonal factors play a large influence in particular – estrogen levels especially at menopause.

So i guess my point here is that while it is very important to work with the aspects you can control such as your diet – I feel very wary about “finger pointing” where one area is given all the blame for a dis-ease. Such as “too much protein” or “dairy is bad” or even, cooked food is bad. instead of looking at the larger picture of all the factors. It seems like a careful assessment of your individual body needs (yes, i think each person needs a slightly different diet), and a little research into combining of foods, and sourcing them wisely – is the best you can do – but is not a guarentee.

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Vic March 18, 2014 at 7:40 am

It’s funny that in countries where they consume the most milk and dairy thay also have the highest numbers of osteoporosis.

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