Ask the Nutritionist
by Melissa Diane Smith
Give dairy a pass and focus on lesser-known food strategies for bone health
Q: I eat and drink a lot of milk products mostly because I want to be sure I get enough calcium for healthy bones. Unfortunately, I have asthma and a lot of digestive distress, and I’ve been wondering whether dairy is part of the problem. If I find I’m reacting to dairy products and feel better not eating them, how can I get enough calcium to protect my bone health? —Janet K., Toledo, Ohio
A: The idea that we have to consume a lot of cow’s milk for strong bones is deeply ingrained in our society, but it’s based mostly on a successful PR strategy by the dairy industry rather than scientific fact. Believe it or not, anthropologists know that people in hunter-gatherer societies who didn’t consume milk had much stronger, healthier bones than people from agrarian societies who did.
It’s true that milk is high in calcium, and 99 percent of the calcium found in the average adult body resides in our bones. But the long-held belief that we need plenty of calcium to prevent osteoporosis—a disease characterized by porous and fragile bones—isn’t as accurate as you’d think. Numerous studies have found no association between high calcium intake and lower fracture risk.