High-Calcium Diets Probably Cause Osteoporosis

At least every 5 years, the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture and the U.S. Depart­ment of Health and Human Ser­vices are required by fed­er­al law to issue Dietary Guide­lines for Amer­i­cans. Accord­ing to the law, these guide­lines are sup­posed to be based on the best avail­able sci­ence. Yet some of their rec­om­men­da­tions don’t seem to have any basis in sci­ence at all. In par­tic­u­lar, I think that their rec­om­men­da­tions about cal­ci­um intake will make the prob­lem of osteo­poro­sis worse, not bet­ter.
Con­tin­ue read­ing “High-Cal­ci­um Diets Prob­a­bly Cause Osteo­poro­sis”

Stop Worrying About Calcium Deficiency

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.

The Plate’s Not Much Better Than the Pyramid

The Unit­ed States Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture has ditched its creepy Food Pyra­mid, which for many peo­ple con­jured up gris­ly images of Aztec human sac­ri­fice.


Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the USDA’s new “plate and cup” graph­ic still pro­vides dead­ly nutri­tion­al advice. It still urges peo­ple to eat far more fat, cho­les­terol, cal­ci­um, and ani­mal pro­tein than is good for them. Thus, it will con­tribute to our major caus­es of death and dis­abil­i­ty in the Unit­ed States, with­out doing much to solve any of our real pub­lic health prob­lems.

myplateThe new “plate and cup” graph­ic is sim­ply a way to com­mu­ni­cate the lessons from the most recent edi­tion of Dietary Guide­lines for Amer­i­cans. Fed­er­al law requires these guide­lines to be reviewed, and updat­ed if nec­es­sary, every five years. The guide­lines are cre­at­ed by a joint com­mit­tee of the USDA and the US Depart­ment of Health and Human Ser­vices, with input from oth­er fed­er­al agen­cies and the pub­lic. The 2010 edi­tion was issued in Jan­u­ary 2011.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the guide­lines are designed to address two nonex­is­tent prob­lems, while fail­ing to help peo­ple avoid or recov­er from our biggest caus­es of death and dis­abil­i­ty. The guide­lines are designed to ensure that Amer­i­cans con­sume “enough” pro­tein and cal­ci­um, even though it’s prac­ti­cal­ly impos­si­ble to find any real human beings who have a true defi­cien­cy of either one. Mean­while, the guide­lines actu­al­ly encour­age peo­ple to eat foods that increase the risk of heart dis­ease, can­cer, type 2 dia­betes, low back pain, osteo­poro­sis, and autoim­mune dis­eases such as arthri­tis and type 1 dia­betes.

Nutri­tion sci­en­tists have known for more than 100 years that human pro­tein needs are eas­i­ly met by any prac­ti­cal plant-based diet, as long as peo­ple are eat­ing enough food to get enough calo­ries. For more than 50 years, they’ve known that all of our com­mon sta­ple plant foods pro­vide enough of all of the essen­tial amino acids. Peo­ple would get plen­ty of pro­tein even if they ate noth­ing but pota­toes; thus, there’s no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for urg­ing peo­ple to eat ani­mal-based “pro­tein foods.”

The “pro­tein foods” that come from ani­mals pose seri­ous health risks. They are devoid of fiber and digestible car­bo­hy­drates. Instead, their calo­ries come in the form of fat and pro­tein. Any over­load of pro­tein stress­es the liv­er and kid­neys. Worse yet, ani­mal pro­teins also tend to pro­mote can­cer, osteo­poro­sis, and autoim­mune dis­ease. The heavy dose of cal­ci­um from dairy foods actu­al­ly seems to increase, rather than decrease, the risk of osteo­poro­sis.

The cur­rent guide­lines also encour­age peo­ple to eat far more fat than is good for them. The cur­rent guide­lines do encour­age peo­ple to eat less sat­u­rat­ed fat, but to replace it with polyun­sat­u­rat­ed fats. The result would be only a slight­ly low­er risk of heart dis­ease, off­set by a high­er risk of can­cer. Most peo­ple should keep their fat intake to 10% or less of calo­ries.

The Dietary Guide­lines for Amer­i­cans do encour­age peo­ple to eat more fruits and veg­eta­bles and to replace refined grain prod­ucts with whole-grain prod­ucts. How­ev­er, they fall far short of telling peo­ple how they can achieve opti­mal health. That’s a scan­dalous fail­ure, con­sid­er­ing how many Amer­i­cans lack health insur­ance and thus have lim­it­ed access to pro­fes­sion­al guid­ance, includ­ing advice from a reg­is­tered dietit­ian.

Like our government’s fail­ure to pro­vide an effi­cient, pub­licly-financed uni­ver­sal health­care sys­tem, the short­com­ings of the Dietary Guide­lines for Amer­i­cans rep­re­sent our government’s fail­ure to “pro­mote the gen­er­al wel­fare.” Instead, our food and health­care poli­cies pro­mote the wel­fare of the pow­er­ful cor­po­ra­tions that finance our elec­tions and whose lob­by­ists stalk the halls of Con­gress.

These prob­lems have per­sist­ed for decades. They are not going to solve them­selves. These prob­lems will be solved only if health activists work to elect Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and Sen­a­tors and a Pres­i­dent who care far more about human beings than about cor­po­ra­tions and if health activists pro­vide such pres­sure dur­ing the “pub­lic com­ment” phase for the next edi­tion of the guide­lines that USDA will have no choice but to serve the Amer­i­can peo­ple instead of the food indus­try.