The committee that put together the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 were trying to solve a nonexistent problem: calcium deficiency. Unfortunately, their suggested solution to this nonexistent problem would make some of our most serious real problems worse. If people follow these guidelines and eat more dairy foods, they will actually increase their risk for osteoporosis and several other common, serious health problems.
The human body is surprisingly good at maintaining calcium balance on a low-calcium diet. To find cases of true dietary deficiency of calcium, you have to look at people who were consuming extremely abnormal diets. Most cases involved babies who were being fed some bizarre substitute for breast milk. In reality, cases of rickets (soft bones) in children are nearly always due to a shortage of vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin.
When you think about it, most of the world’s large land animals manage to get enough calcium from their plant-based diet to grow an enormous skeleton. Nor does any species other than our own consume the milk of another species, or any milk at all after infancy. So why should we expect human beings to need dairy foods, or to need a calcium intake that can be achieved only through eating dairy foods or taking supplements? It makes no sense.
Scientists have known for decades that osteoporosis occurs mainly in countries where people eat a lot of dairy products and have a relatively high calcium intake. In fact, there’s reason to believe that eating too much animal protein and too much calcium actually causes osteoporosis.
The populations with a high risk for osteoporosis also have high rates of death from coronary artery disease. Fortunately, the same kind of diet that prevents heart attacks also helps to keep the bones strong. That means eating a low-fat, plant-based diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables.
It’s also important to get enough vitamin D. A few minutes of exposure to midday sun on the face and arms during the spring, summer, and fall should provide enough vitamin D for most light-skinned people in the United States. If you are dark-skinned, live in the far North, or have some other reason why you can’t go out in the sunshine, your doctor, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner can monitor your vitamin D levels and advise you about vitamin D supplements.