You Need Dairy to Grow Big and Strong

Yes, dairy products serve up calcium and protein and has been harkened as a vital part of the American diet- even reserving its own section in MyPlate. No, you do not need dairy for strong bones, muscles or to grow big and tall. In fact, you may not need dairy at all.

But, will a little cheese hurt?  Probably not, and yogurt may still be beneficial for some.

One thing’s for sure, the dairy industry has had some top-notch advertisements over the years. Big dairy has insisted that children need milk to grow, athletes need milk to win, and women who drink milk become thinner and more beautiful. None of this is true.

Let’s unpack.  he link between bone health and milk is really the link between calcium and milk, because milk has a high level of absorbable calcium. There are loads of other foods that have calcium and other health benefits as well. Some healthful sources of calcium are: sardines, sesame seeds, leafy greens, salmon, chia seeds, beans, and almonds.

What does calcium have to do with your bones anyway?

Your body actually uses calcium for loads of important functions, like regulating your heart rhythm. When you don’t get enough calcium from your diet, your body will borrow calcium from your bones, where it is essentially stored. Ideally, this “burrowed” calcium will be replaced at a later date, but not always.

Typically, at around thirty-years, our bones tend to break down more than they build up, and no amount of milk will change this.  Adequate calcium intake in the first thirty years can serve as a strong foundation for later in life, and practicing healthy habits may slow the process.

There’s More to Bone Health Than Calcium

Importantly, there’s a lot more to strong bones than calcium intake.  Getting exercise—especially resistance training, is a key factor in preventing osteoporosis.  There are also other vitamins and minerals that may be as crucial as calcium.

Vitamin D:  Sunny days may be part of the secret to the healthy lifestyle of the Mediterranean. For bone health, vitamin D is equally important as calcium.  You can discuss vitamin D supplementation with your doctor, as many of us do not get enough sunlight- especially during the winter months.

Vitamin K: Dark, leafy greens offer loads of health benefits, including the benefits to bone health from vitamin K.  Just one serving of Brussels sprouts, collard greens, or kale should do the trick. 

Don’t Over-Do the Protein:  Sorry Atkins (now re-branded as keto), too much of a good thing can hurt you. We absolutely need protein, for many vital functions. But, too much protein can be harmful. When your body digests protein, it releases acid into the bloodstream, which the body neutralizes by drawing calcium from the bones.  Your body really only can absorb so much protein. While some may need more protein than others, we all tend to get more than we realize. Indeed, populations in developed countries are not at risk for protein deficiency.

So How Do We Grow Big and Strong?

You may have guessed the summation.

Eat a balanced diet of mostly plants, not too much.  The healthiest foods will give you calcium, along with other vital nutrients.

Get outdoors, shelter was made to protect us- not to harm us, by keeping us from fresh air and sunlight.

Exercise. Resistance training is especially useful for building strong bones. 

What About Dairy? Savior or Villain?

Neither. The bottom line is that you can have an optimal diet that does or does not include dairy.  You can also have a poor diet that does or does not include dairy.  Fermented dairy, like that found in cheeses and yogurts can have a positive effect on the gut microbiome.

Those who are lactose intolerant, vegan or just generally milk adverse, are not at a greater risk of fractures, osteoporosis, or stunted growth- so long as they consume a balanced and healthy diet, filled with leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and legumes.

The planet also matters- and mass production of cows for mass production of milk should be a consideration.

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