The Calcium Myth

Milk does the body good, right?

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The infamous “Got Milk?” campaign reads like a who’s who of famous athletes and celebrities known the world over. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find an A-lister who hasn’t posed donning the famous milk mustache. As an accompaniment to their fierce looks, strong physique and milky mug, powerfully worded quips such as “Want strong kids?” or evidence speaking to the many benefits of milk are always found nearby.

Milk contains calcium. Calcium builds strong bones. What is there to argue?

Plenty.

Dairy Fractures
A Fitted Line Plot showing the correlation between Hip Fracture rates per 100000 and Dairy Consumption, using data from 40 countries in Africa, Europe, Latin America, North America, Asia and Oceania.

The idea that drinking milk, or simply getting adequate calcium in your diet, somehow yields strong bones or a decreased risk of degenerative bone diseases such as osteoporosis, is simply not the case. The plot above (source: Nature.com) shows the correlation between calcium consumption of over 40 world nations, and the incidence of hip fractures in each country.

The data is clear as day: more calcium in the diet does absolutely nothing to deter fractures or osteoporosis, as advertised. It even appears to have the opposite of the desired affect.

strong-bonesWhat then, if anything, makes strong bones?

There is a principle in kinesiology known as Wolff’s Law, stating that a bone will grow and adapt, over time, to the stresses under which it is placed. In Layman’s terms, excess mechanical stress builds strong bones, and not the consumption of some purportedly miracle nutrient.

This means that to build bone density and ward off degenerative bone diseases such as osteoporosis or age-related fractures, we need to subject our bones to resistance training on at least a semi-regular basis.

Add that to the growing list of reasons to exercise.

Why else we should re-think milk and dairy consumption.

As a human, ingesting dairy doesn’t make sense. I defer to Michael Klaper, MD, to explain further:
(Click here to be directed to YouTube if video loads incorrectly)

Type I_Milk

Cow’s milk is just one of a host of animal products that show an alarmingly linear relationship with diseases of affluence. These diseases include: Type I diabetes, hypertension and other diseases of the heart, and cancers of almost every variety. Chart 9.3 indicates the relationship between cow’s milk consumption and Type I diabetes in wealthy countries. While in science it is important to remember that correlation does not directly prove causation, the overwhelming picture drawn by the data, in my view, is becoming harder to ignore.

Where do we go from here?

Allow me to be clear, I am not suggesting that we all give up dairy tomorrow. To be sure, its a product that’s been ingrained in our culture for hundreds of years, and is an ingredient in thousands of products we love. The cold turkey approach just doesn’t work.

However, this shouldn’t stop anyone from making decisions in their own life that are guided by the very best information that evidence-based research has to offer. I’ve previously written a guide on adopting more plant-based options into the diet, which you can read here.

As per usual, what you do with this information is up to you!

The Only ‘Diet’ Nobody Is Selling – Part II

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

And what does it have to do with Newton’s Cradle?

Welcome back – if you haven’t checked out Part I (it’s important!), do that right now then come right back!

Cradle

If you’re unfamiliar, Newton’s Cradle is a very simple device that demonstrates the principle of conservation of energy.

So what does this have to do with anything?

Glad you asked – we all have a finite amount of room in our lives. Every time you make any positive choice for yourself – whether its something physical like taking a class or a dietary choice like snacking on an apple – a potential bad choice (or a choice that simply isn’t as good) is removed from the equation.

But make no mistake, this phenomenon works in both directions. Every time you opt for that second beer or for the nachos, you’re pushing something good off the other end..

Can I live?

Of course! You didn’t let me finish. I’m the last person to stand on a high horse and bark out orders as if I’m always perfect. The key is simply to start making the good choice more often, and to slow (with the goal of ending) the excuses. The more good you feed into your life (more on this momentarily), the more bad you weed out. Our actions become our habits, and these habits – good or bad – become who we are.

How do you judge Good vs Bad?

One simple concept. Nutrient Density.

# of NutrientsNutrient Density is, quite literally, how densely packed a food is with nutrients relative to its caloric content. Take something like a bowl of carrots. Carrots are packed with nutrients like Vitamin A, carotene, fiber, etc – and have very few calories.. we would call carrots a very nutrient dense food.

As an extreme counter example, compare that to a Big Mac. Not totally deficient of nutrients, a Big Mac has a decent amount of iron, vitamin B-12 and potassium.. but (and that’s a big but..) it also packs 540 calories. We would obviously call this a food with very low nutrient density. It shouldn’t be all too surprising that we should avoid these types of foods.

Admittedly, not all foods are so cut and dry, and a lot of times we’re told what to eat and how to purchase by very well-funded (and defended) marketing firms who appeal to our emotions. Buzz words like “gluten free,” “low fat,” and “heart healthy” have taken over the shelves, and cartons picturing happy and healthy families or cows roaming freely in beautiful pastures dominate the labeling scene.

But, much like you are trained (and thus highly skilled) in your profession, the experts from whom I have learned and I are highly skilled in ours. We spend our time poring through research and figuring out the healthiest ways to live so that we can share it with you. With a little effort and guided education, you can make the necessary adjustments for yourself.

InterventionBefore we begin, the difficult [but necessary] truth:

Health isn’t easy. In fact, its the reason I’m able to support myself by working full time in the industry.. If it was, everyone would be running around with 6-packs and resting heart rates in the 40s, and I’d be employed elsewhere.

We’ve reached the point where I need to share with you, that if you don’t make the decision to take charge of your own situation, it will never improve. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you can have the best team of doctors in the world – but all they can do is prescribe you medication and perform your bypass surgery before it’s too late.

Please understand that I don’t say this to be rude or dismissive towards the challenges many people undoubtedly face, of which there are many. We simply need to acknowledge the elephant in the room that it is not enough to simply show up and expect the rest to fall into place.

The Nutrient Density Chart

Density Fuhrman

These numbers, while seemingly arbitrary, place foods on a spectrum of 1,000 all the way down to 1. This quantification is known as a food’s ANDI score, popularized by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. At the top left of the list you’ll find foods we all know and appreciate to be amongst the healthiest available, and as you first move down and then to the right, you’ll find foods that are less nutrient dense.

For our purposes, the formula couldn’t possibly be any simpler. Choose more foods with higher nutrient density, and more often. Much like Newton’s Cradle, by simply inputting more smart options, you have less room for the bad. Don’t argue with physics.

While there is room for debate on exactly what constitutes a necessary nutrient and its overall value in the diet, the fact remains: to live better, you must give your body as broad a spectrum of plant-based nutrients as you can. The rest will work itself out.

The Good:

LeafySome choices like kale and broccoli are obvious, but others may be more difficult.. Where do grains like brown rice fall, for example? How about lean proteins like fish? Aren’t these staple health foods?

Stick to the formula. Do the investigative work. The beauty of this knowledge is that once you know it – you know it. As an example, I know that when I have the option of brown rice versus quinoa or lentils, I should choose the latter as often as possible.

Yes, it’s one little decision, made one time. But these decisions add up. $1 in your IRA today is worth $2 tomorrow – but that’s exactly the point: you have to do it, and you have to start today.

As a simple and general rule of thumb, the hierarchy is as such:

  1. Leafy greens. Kale, collards, romaine, cilantro.
  2. Cruciferous vegetables. Broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts.
  3. Colorful vegetables. Carrots, cabbage, peppers, eggplant.
  4. Fruits. Apples, papaya, oranges, lemon.
  5. Whole grains. Lentils, quinoa, wild rice, brown rice.
  6. Nuts/seeds. Chia, flax, almonds, walnuts.

The Bad:

Meat DairyOdds are you already know what’s coming – but luckily these points are simply for your review. Again, some choices are obvious such as soda or candy, but what about things like milk, honey or granola? Stick to the formula!

For a rule of thumb, products you should shy away from when possible (listed from abysmal to just not-so-great):

  1. Soda. Zero nutritional value.
  2. Cheeses. Concentrated fat that packs calories with few nutrients.
  3. Other dairy such as yogurt/milk. Even when low fat.
  4. Red meat. Very high in cholesterol and saturated fat.
  5. White potato/white rice. Very few nutrients.
  6. Lean protein such as chicken/fish. Contain less fat compared to red meat but are generally still devoid of any worthwhile nutrients.

An [Ugly] Truth:

The debate is over: animal products are not good for you. This is no longer an argument. The evidence is overwhelming, If you rebuke those who deny climate change even as they hold mounds of  their version of “scientific evidence,” The only people still trying to sell you on the idea of animal products, are those who are literally selling you animal products. To embrace one and not the other would be hypocritical! You must hold all sciences to the same standard – even those you wish told a different story.
     Source 1     Source 2     Source 3

In Closing:

I share this information not with the goal of turning everyone into a vegan, but to at the least get everyone on board with the idea of making better choices and exactly how you can quantify them. In these last two posts (Part I here), a few ideas should have been made abundantly clear:

Healthcare CartoonWhat we have:

  • Healthcare, and the state of healthcare in the United States, is in morbid disarray
    • We’re fat (getting fatter), sick (getting sicker), and costs to consumers and to the government are rising with no signs of slowing
  • The consumer has been led astray by confusing and conflicting advertising and information that is centered on profit to shareholders instead of their health

What we need:

  • The simplest way to start the process of improvement starts with the idea of making better choices
    • More good IN = more bad OUT
  • Nutrient Density is by far the most important concept in making good dietary choices
  • Plant-based options provide far more nutrients than any other food choice
    • Especially when viewed in the context of nutrient density, quite literally how many nutrients they provide per calorie

What happens next is up to you..

Happy-People

The Only ‘Diet’ Nobody Is Selling – Part I

“Truth is ever to be found in simplicity, and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things”

Let’s assume for a moment that how you look and feel is 80% diet and 20% lifestyle/exercise related. While to my knowledge there are no double-blind, longitudinal studies conducted by peer-reviewed, independent journals to back this up, I hope the wellness community will forgive me and accept such a statement as “close enough.”

Exercise aside, it’s no secret that we [humans] struggle with our diet. However, exactly how much we struggle depends almost entirely on who you ask. 75% of Americans rate our diets as “good,” “very good,” or “excellent,” yet 80% of us aren’t getting our recommended intake of fruits or vegetables – and 36% of us are obese (and rising). It should be no surprise that Nutritionists and Dietitians disagree when you ask them the same question..

Confused Diet

What’s our current answer?

To the credit of the average American – we want to be healthy! While exact figures vary depending on your definition of supplemental healthcare spending (i.e. ‘above and beyond’ what would be medically required), it is estimated that Americans spend about $30.2 billion every year out of pocket. This includes visits to complementary practitioners, the purchase of health supplements, books and programs – all of which aim to improve our lives either physically or mentally.

That’s one hell of a business to be in!

How successful are we?

Let’s take a look at the other important health trends as our out of pocket spending on “help” has increased:

  • Obesity:
    • Childhood obesity rates have tripled since 1980.
    • Nearly 38% of adults are obese – and rising.
  • Type II Diabetes, Hypertension, individuals with High Cholesterol (Hypercholesterolemia)
    • All show a steady trend upward with no signs of slowing
    • Medications available for Hypertension and Hypercholesterolemia have resulted in a net decrease in incidence of those with uncontrolled blood pressure or blood cholesterol – however each of these drugs come with a plethora of side effects.
  • Cancer:
    • Although yearly deaths from cancer have decreased, overall incidences have risen.
    • What’s more, the case for environmental factors such as diet and what you do for a living play much more a role than previously thought – and the case is getting stronger.
  • Healthcare spending:

Not to mention:

We keep buying and buying, yet the status of our health as a country remains dire if not worse.

The evidence is overwhelming. We’re wasting our money on what are, at best, false promises.

And yet, we keep doing it..

Why?

Stated simply, health information is confusing at best, and at worst: contradictory!

Paleo
Eat carbs.. Don’t eat carbs.. Eat like the cave-people did (fancy term for low carb).. Eat based on your blood type.. Eat only red fruit.. Don’t eat red fruit.. Drink bone broth.. Sell your kidneys..

What’s the one thing each of these diets has in common? The author wants it to be a best seller! Of course they sound like they work; of course the anecdotes between each chapter have people who swear they feel 20 years younger – who would buy them otherwise?

We sound f*#@ed.

Believe it or not, my point is not to scare you or to make you feel hopeless. It’s to uncover the information that doesn’t go along with what gets sold. If you spend money on healthcare solutions – they should be effective. The wellness industry should be putting out a strong, consistent message that’s safe from corporate profit-driven attacks from lobbies in Washington or from self-described health gurus with a product to sell.

Correct information is there – it’s just hidden in the mist.

What’s the answer?

I feel fortunate to be someone who now has near complete control of their health. In the past I’ve struggled with body dysmorphia, and disordered eating, but I’ve retaken the reigns and have never felt or performed better.. and I’ve learned so many important things along the way.

I haven’t purchased a supplement (including protein) in over 10 years. Save for self-experimentation, I have never subscribed to the notion of a traditional diet.

Some of the most sage advice that I’ve ever been given is that like love, knowledge grows when shared. It cannot be taken away. I want to share what I’ve learned with you:

With a little help from Sir Isaac Newton.. stay tuned

Newton