Your Facebook questions answered: The truth about calcium & osteoporosis

“I would love your opinion on this article – “The truth about calcium & osteoporosis”, asks Enlightened Eater Facebook fan Stacey McLean.

Stacey, after reading this article, I have to say that I feel it’s mix of science and science fiction. Or maybe I should say it’s an article full of half truths.

Before going into detail, there is one thing I want to point out. The author of this anti-dairy piece is John Robbins, the heir to the Baskin-Robbins empire, who left it all behind to champion a plant-based diet. He is a well-known animal-rights activist promoting a vegan style of eating. Now I have no issue about people promoting animal rights but I do have one when their agenda is not clear. If you want to protect animals, then don’t do it under the guise of health promotion for humans, especially when you don’t get your facts straight.

Let me explain.

Robbins states, “African Bantu women take in only 350 mg. of calcium per day. They bear nine children during their lifetime and breast feed them for two years. They never have calcium deficiency, seldom break a bone, rarely lose a tooth… How can they do that on 350 mg. of calcium a day when the (National Dairy Council) recommendation is 1200 mg.? It’s very simple. They’re on a low-protein diet that doesn’t kick the calcium out of the body.”

But he conveniently leaves out a critical point about Bantu women. Their life expectancy ranges between 58 and 64 years of age, depending on where you get the figures. Simply put, they don’t live long enough to get osteoporosis.

Robbins begins the article with the statement, “25% of sixty-five year old women in the United States are diagnosed with osteoporosis.”.

So why would he compare these women to Bantus?

His premise is that here in North America, the protein in our diets is responsible for bone-thinning.

While it’s true that, in excess, protein can contribute to calcium loss from the bones, he states, “Osteoporosis is, in fact, a disease caused by a number of things, the most important of which is excess dietary animal protein!”.  So how does he explain that in China, where protein has customarily not been consumed in excess (and dairy products have not been traditionally on the menu), the rates of osteoporosis in women over 50 years of age (50 %) is double that of those in North America (25 %).

If you leave out the scientific facts opposing your argument, then you are not presenting a true picture, something I have seen before when animal right activists talk about health and vegetarianism.
There are plenty of arguments to be made about animal cruelty and factory farming including the use of the growth hormone, recombinant bovine somatotropin (r-bst) in the U.S., one which promotes greater milk production in cows. But if you’re an animal rights activist and if you’re not going to present all the facts, stick to the animal treatment issues and leave the health argument out of it.

I have to say, I do agree with his statement, “I used to believe that bones lost calcium only if there was not enough calcium in our diets. “ Yes, we do know that there is more to maintaining healthy bones than just the calcium issue. But where is the discussion of factors such as the excess sodium in our diets which can cause calcium loss from bones? What about vitamin D and weight bearing exercise?

None of these have anything to do with animals but they certainly do play a role in maintaining healthy bones.

One piece of advice I have, Stacey, is that when you come across a very one-sided argument – pro or against a certain food- do an online search about the individual or organization to see what they’re all about.

Or you can always ask me!

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Arre you confused by articles such as this? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Categories: Rosie's Rants, Your Questions Answered

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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4 Comments on “Your Facebook questions answered: The truth about calcium & osteoporosis”

  1. Kathy
    December 9, 2014 at 5:24 am #

    Thank you Rosie for the wonderfully clear article. Sometimes these “experts” talk circles around laymen and make their side sound so convincing.
    Good job!

    • December 9, 2014 at 8:06 am #

      My pleasure, Kathy! Thanks for your feedback. I agree – these so-called experts do sound convincing and sorting through the facts from fiction can sometimes be a daunting task. In this case, as I knew of John Robbins beforehand, I knew what to look for!

  2. sharon pullam
    December 9, 2014 at 8:36 am #

    Great article!

    • December 9, 2014 at 8:56 am #

      Thanks, Sharon! I really appreciate your feedback!

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