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Calcium deficiency on a Paleo Diet? 

 

This question is from the NEW Ask Cave Girl column at CaveGirlEats.com!
Have a question for the Ask Cave Girl column? Click here to submit!

 

Dear Cave Girl,
Am I at risk for calcium deficiency on a Paleo diet?
I don’t drink milk anymore, as I know it’s not Paleo,
and my husband is worried I’m not getting enough calcium.
What do you think?

 

As the Paleo lifestyle (I consider it a lifestyle, not a diet!) becomes more mainstream, with features on USA Today (I’m quoted!) and even Dr. Oz, I’ve been getting this question more and more often. 

Many of us were raised drinking milk - lots and lots of milk, often low-fat and usually straight out of the supermarket (and NOT the local farm). Because a standard Paleo lifestyle includes far less conventional dairy than the Standard American Diet Dogma recommends, people new to the idea tend to get a little shaken up about the topic. They worry that without lots of milk, we won’t get enough calcium.

Too often our reasoning for eliminating dairy is “it’s not Paleo.” Well, to me, that’s just not good enough. There are many reasons why eliminating conventional dairy poses NO threat to our calcium status, and we should all be informed about them.

Further, not all dairy is created equal! Conventional store-bought milk is usually garbage (let’s be honest); but full-fat dairy from grass-fed animals can be a totally nutritious food for people who tolerate it.

For more, click here for my thoughts on the “is it Paleo?” question. You’ll see why I’m not a fan of breaking down the way I eat by whether or not my food is “Paleo.”

If your Paleo lifestyle is filled with nutrient-dense traditional foods, your calcium status is probably better than it was when you were drinking lots of milk (whether over “whole grain” cereal or with your Oreo cookies).

Here’s the cold, hard fact: in nature, nothing exists alone. The same goes for calcium. For every nutrient your body needs, it needs co-factor to use it. (I talk about this at length in the nutrition section of the Skintervention Guide.)

What this means: it’s not about how much calcium you take in. It’s about what your body can do with it. When your body is using the calcium it’s given (from healthy sources, not conventional milk) it doesn’t need to be hammered with it all the time.

Conventional milk - the kind many of us were raised on - gives our bodies NONE of the great tools we need to use calcium effectively.
 

Here’s what really matters when it comes to calcium:


#1: KEEPING BLOOD SUGAR BALANCED. 

Constant blood sugar highs and lows can cause the body to recruit its own calcium stores to manage the effects of poor blood sugar control. If you’re suffering blood sugar problems - symptoms are mid-afternoon crankiness and cravings, fatigue, coffee addiction, or waking up in the middle of the night - this post can help.


#2: STAYING HYDRATED - BUT THAT DOESN'T MEAN DRINKING GALLONS OF WATER.

Hydration isn’t just about drinking lots of water. Minerals - like the kind found in unrefined sea salt - allow your body to move water through the cells and where it needs to go. Don’t be afraid of salt! The best source of healthy minerals that are readily available to your body is homemade bone broth. It’s hydrating AND mineral-rich.
 

#3: KNOWING THE TRUTH ABOUT BONE DENSITY DRUGS. 

While the truth is slowly emerging about drugs meant to increase bone density (a major calcium-related issue), what many people don’t understand is that bone is SUPPOSED to be in a process of constant remodeling. We’re supposed to lose and replace calcium from bone: it actually keeps bones strong.

While bone-density drugs keep bones from losing calcium, making bones more dense this way doesn’t make the bones any stronger. It can actually make them more brittle.


#4: KEEPING DIGESTION STRONG. 

Good, strong stomach acid production is required to absorb and utilize calcium. If you’re constantly dealing with stress or taking acid-blocking drugs, your stomach acid may be inadequate for calcium use.

Stress relief, digestive bitters, and even supplemental stomach acid may help (but don't use supplements without the guidance of a practitioner).


#5: EXERCISE.

Ever heard the phrase “use it or lose it?” That might as well say “exercise it or lose it.” Movement and impact - something our bodies are built for - is required to keep bones strong just like lifting is required to keep muscles in good shape. The easiest place to start? Walking as much as you can, as often as possible.

Jumping, playing and dancing are good too!



#6: THE MOST IMPORTANT POINT OF ALL - GETTING ALL THOSE IMPORTANT CO-FACTORS!

Like I said before, conventional dairy has few, if any, of the co-factors needed for good calcium status. Vitamin D, magnesium, vitamin A, and vitamin K2 are incredibly important for the body’s ability to use and retain calcium. In fact, vitamin K2 actually tells the body where to put calcium: in places it’s needed, and NOT in the arteries.

Healthy fats, including saturated fats and essential fatty acids like Omega 3, also enable the body to move calcium to where it needs to go.

This brings me to the good news: all the NON-conventional-dairy foods that are also great sources of calcium are also great sources of the vital co-factors for calcium status!

Sardines and canned salmon (with the bones - they’re soft and easy to eat), homemade bone broth, leafy green vegetables doused in butter from pasture-raised, grass-fed animals, raw milk from pasture-raised, grass-fed animals, and nuts and seeds all offer calcium and calcium co-factors.


Eat up, Paleo people!

And if you’re ever asked that lovely Calcium Question, feel free to forward this email. 

Further reading:
Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox 
The Untold Story of Milk 


With lots of love - and lots of co-factors,
Liz

 


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