If you’re going to pick on my diet, leave my calcium alone

So by now you already know not to ask me about where and how I get my protein. Time to deal – briefly – with calcium.

Perhaps I’m being overly cynical in saying that the hugely powerful dairy industry is almost solely responsible for perpetuating the myth that actively consuming calcium is so important. Well, I know I’m right but I’m not going to change anyone’s opinions with that argument.

I’m not here to give you a nutrition course on the various sources, uses and absorption rates of calcium – more than enough people have already done that far better than I ever could – and if you have any issues with calcium levels, your best bet is to get a proper blood test done and figure out where your levels are. As I pointed out in my previous post, there are healthy vegan diets and unhealthy vegan diets, so we are all at risk of dietary inadequacies.

One thing I will say, however, is that calcium intake is the least of my worries. Calcium absorption is what I would lose sleep over if I wasn’t so damn tired when I get to bed at night and if I had nothing better to worry about. Even that would only take up a very small amount of my time before I moved on to Vitamin D. Funny how everyone knows the dangers of not consuming enough calcium, but very few people are aware of the important of Vitamin D or how common deficiency is – guess the Sun needs to work on its lobbying power (and I don’t mean Murdoch’s toilet roll, which is already far too efficient at influencing those with the power and the money).

Consider the first few lines of this abstract:

Vitamin D deficiency is now recognized as a pandemic. The major cause of vitamin D deficiency is the lack of appreciation that sun exposure in moderation is the major source of vitamin D for most humans. Very few foods naturally contain vitamin D, and foods that are fortified with vitamin D are often inadequate to satisfy either a child’s or an adult’s vitamin D requirement.

“Very few foods”. That’s not “very few vegan foods”. It’s “very few foods”. Get my point? If you’re a nutritionist, come right on over, stick a needle in my vein, see what’s going on in there and then tell me what to do. If you’re not, if you had never thought about nutrition until you found out I was vegan, then please stop acting like you know better than me.

Let’s continue.

According to Nutri-News, at least 30% and maybe up to 80% of the US population is Vitamin D deficient, and the Journal of Nutrition echoes this:

Several recent studies have identified a high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency in otherwise healthy adults and children living in North America (3,4), Europe (5,6), and even sun-drenched countries (7,8)

From that same JN article I give you:

Yep, little problem there with vegan Vitamin D intake – but hey, the vegetarians aren’t doing so well either, but nobody points the finger at them nearly as much for being riddled with deficiencies.

But we don’t supplement so that we can make bar charts nice and even. We supplement to make sure we are healthy, with particular concern for long-term health. The cynic in me would again want to point out that everything goes wrong when we get old anyway, but that would make for a very short and really quite demotivating post. So let’s consider osteoporosis, as people who would never even dream of thinking about osteoporosis suddenly become experts on the matter when it comes to worrying about the state of my skeleton in thirty years.

Obviously, less milk = less calcium = crumbly bones right?

From Livestrong:

Research conducted in 2003 by Marta D. Van Loan at the USDA’s Western Human Nutrition Research Center found that vegans and omnivores found that the amount of calcium removed from the bones for use by the body was equal in both groups, but that vegans formed more new bone than omnivores.

This is explained further by USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, who also state:

The cause of osteoporosis is unknown. In exploring possible links between osteoporosis and what we eat, some researchers have developed a hypothesis and a model that point to sulfur-containing animal proteins as a culprit in the bone disease.

Funny how that was kept quiet! I’m not even going to zone in on the suggestion that animal proteins may actually be one of the causes, or we’re going to keep going in circles poking holes in each other’s diets. The point is that vegans can argue all we like that we can get calcium from plant sources, it doesn’t even bloody matter because we don’t know the cause of osteoporosis!

What we do know, is how to reverse the effects of osteoporosis. Weight-bearing exercise. Lots of it. I could give you some links or quotes but there are just too many to choose from. It’s just one of those things that people know now – like eating less and exercising more will help you lose weight, weight-bearing exercise will stimulate your bones to grow.

Just one catch – in the same way that your muscles get used to lifting weight and if you keep lifting the same weight over and over again eventually you won’t be so sore the next day, your bones get used to the weight they bear. So you need to constantly and progressively increase the weight. And if you’ve never been keen on the gym, running or jumping will have the same effect, as long as you keep pushing the intensity.

So basically, no matter who you are, lift heavy, run hard, take as many holidays to the sun as you can, get your blood tested every so often, buy some supplements when they’re on sale, eat what you want and let others eat what they want.