Calcium has been a hot topic in our household this past year. When I stopped breastfeeding Amelia (around 14 months), we started getting a lot of questions from friends and family about whether or not we would be giving her cow’s milk. The answer is no. Benny and I both have dairy intolerances and therefore don’t drink milk, so why would we then give it to Amelia?
For most people, dairy (along with gluten) can be the underlying cause of countless health issues, mainly due to the fact that it can be highly inflammatory. One thing that I teach my clients is how to eat mindfully. It may sound new-agey to most, but mindful eating just simply means being present in the moment and listening to what your body is trying to tell you before and after you eat. With that being said, dairy causes inflammation in a large percentage of the population, which can result in digestive issues such as gas, constipation, bloating, and diarrhea. Dairy can also cause acne and other skin disorders, and has also been linked to a stronger presentation of autistic behaviors.
If you aren’t sure whether or not you have a dairy sensitivity, I want you to be mindful of how it makes you feel the next time you drink milk, or eat ice cream. Are you feeling any of the above digestive symptoms? Do you notice a huge zit forming 24-hours after you ate that pint of Ben and Jerry’s?
One thing you may not be aware of is that a dairy sensitivity is most likely due to an intolerance to lactose, which is a type of sugar found in milk, or to its casein proteins. According to Purple Carrot, there are many theories on what exactly causes the inflammation from dairy, but experts agree that it all leads back to what dairy cows are fed and whether or not they are injected with growth hormones—which make their way into the products we consume.
What should you do if you think you’re sensitive to dairy?
If you think you may have a food allergy or sensitivity, I always recommend doing a 30-day elimination diet. You can either go 30 days without dairy, or you can choose to do a specific elimination diet that will have you remove all inflammatory foods. If you’re interested in doing an elimination diet, I highly suggest looking into either the Whole 30, or the Autoimmune Paleo Diet.
One thing to remember is that eliminating a food is only the first part an elimination diet. The second part, is the reintroduction phase. Once you’ve completed the elimination portion, you want to reintroduce the foods that you believe are causing you inflammation one at a time. I suggest introducing a new food every few days. Be sure to make note of how these foods make you feel--this is the most important part of an elimination diet! If you find that one of these foods cause you digestive or skin issues, I highly recommend considering cutting them out for a longer period to allow your gut a chance to heal.
What is calcium?
One question I get a lot is: if you aren’t giving Amelia cow’s milk, then how is she going to get enough calcium in her diet?
My answer: REAL FOOD
Although calcium is one of the most abundant minerals in the body, many of us are deficient, which is not good for our bones or teeth.
Calcium supports functions including bone strength and health, heartbeat regulation, muscle contractions, weight management, and nerve conduction. According to Dr. Axe, you also need other essential nutrients in order for your body to properly absorb and use calcium, such as magnesium, vitamin D, and vitamin K. This is why it’s so important that we get calcium from real, whole foods before taking isolated calcium supplements.
How much calcium do I need?
How many grams of calcium do you need per day to meet your calcium needs? According to the National Institute of Health, here are the recommended daily value for calcium:
- Birth to 6 months, 200 mg
- Infants 7–12 months, 260 mg
- Children 1–3 years, 700 mg
- Children 4–8 years, 1,000 mg
- Children 9–13 years, 1,300 mg
- Teens 14–18 years, 1,300 mg
- Adults 19–50 years, 1,000 mg
- Adult men 51–70 years, 1,000 mg
- Adult women 51–70 years, 1,200 mg
- Adults 71 years and older, 1,200 mg
- Pregnant and breastfeeding teens, 1,300 mg
- Pregnant and breastfeeding adults, 1,000 mg
If you aren’t getting enough calcium in your diet, you may experience the following:
- Higher chance of developing osteopenia or osteoporosis
- Tooth decay
- Bone fractures
- Muscle tension
- High blood pressure
- Hardening of the arteries and hypertension
- PMS symptoms
- Higher risk for kidney stones and gallstones
- Higher risk for heart disease and diabetes
- Higher risk for certain types of cancer
Top 10 calcium rich foods:
- Sardines (canned with bones included)- 1 cup = 57% DV
- Yogurt or Kefir- 1 cup = 49% DV
- Raw milk plus (whey protein, made from milk)- 1 cup = 30% DV
- Cheese- 1 ounce = 20% DV
- Kale (raw)- 1 cup = 9% DV
- Okra (raw)- 1 cup = 8% DV
- Bok Choy- 1 cup = 7% DV
- Almonds- 1 ounce = 7% DV
- Broccoli (raw)- 1 cup = 4% DV
- Watercress- 1 cup = 4% DV
If you are someone who doesn’t eat dairy, there are plenty of DF foods that contain calcium! Some of which are: navy beans, clams, seaweed, sunflower seeds, butternut squash, spinach, sweet potato, green beans, carrots, oranges, and figs.
When it comes to our daughter, Amelia, we try to give her whole foods that contain calcium with every meal. Her meals typically look something like this:
Breakfast: 2 eggs with spinach & avocado
Mid-morning snack: banana & almond butter
Lunch: (may consist of) lean protein or brown rice/quinoa pasta, broccoli, cauliflower, or carrots, avocado, bell peppers, mushrooms, sweet potato, and seaweed
Post-nap snack: apple & almond butter
Dinner: (typically eats whatever Benny and I are making for dinner) lean protein, veggies (such as green beans, broccoli, or cauliflower rice), sweet potato or roasted red potatoes, and salad (she LOVES salad with Primal Kitchen ranch dressing)
Instead of cow’s milk, Amelia drinks cashew milk—and LOVES it! The two brands that we typically use are Forager and Malk.
I always suggest perusing the aisles of your local health foods store, or farmer’s market, to see what kind of alternatives are out there. You can find “cheese” made of almond milk, nut milks that are free of preservatives and gums, and coconut yogurts full of probiotics--all of which are better alternatives to dairy.