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The Dairy Conundrum



Could Too Much Dairy be Depleting the Calcium in Your Bones?

Last week, my brother sent me this New York Times article: While Warning About Fat, U.S. Pushes Cheese Sales. The article brings to light a major contradiction in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's role.

In this article, the U.S.D.A. "acknowledged that cheese is high in saturated fat, but said that lower milk consumption had made cheese an important source of calcium." (Of course, this article also points out that in its reports to Congress, "success" is measured in millions of pounds of cheese served.) If dairy truly is an important source of calcium, why is it that in the U.S., where dairy consumption averages about 25% of the typical diet, there are still such widespread problems of calcium deficiency, such as arthritis and osteoporosis?

In China and Southeast Asia, where dairy consumption is minimal, so are arthritis and other forms of bone deterioration. Turns out, there is plenty of calcium in a diet of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.  And, these foods contain balanced levels of magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamins A, C, and D--which are necessary for proper absorption and assimilation of calcium.

It's fairly common knowledge that vitamin D is a necessary nutrient for metabolizing calcium. That's why most milk if fortified with vitamin D. It is becoming more widely recognized that magnesium is also important for our bodies to properly utilize the calcium present in one's diet. Magnesium stimulates calcitonin, a hormone that increases calcium in the bones while drawing it out of the soft tissues. Many forms of arthritis are a result of too much calcium in the soft tissues, with a deficiency of calcium in the bones; adding magnesium-rich foods to one's diet can help to alleviate these forms of arthritis.

Additionally, calcium is responsible for muscular contraction, while magnesium relaxes the muscles. This is extremely important to note: magnesium may be an important key to reducing various disorders of stress and neuromuscular tension.

The richest source of magnesium are dried seaweeds, such as wakame, kombu, kelp, hijiki, dulse, and arame. Most beans and whole grains, particularly buckwheat, are also excellent sources of the mineral. Other good sources include nuts, seeds, and chlorophyll-rich foods (such as wheatgrass and chlorella).

And, another somewhat surprisingly rich source of magnesium--chocolate. Turns out that craving chocolate is a likely symptom of magnesium deficiency. However, don't go out and buy yourself a Hershey's...the chocolate found in most candies is totally denatured. I recommend buying raw cacao nibs, or raw cacao powder and mixing it into smoothies. Even so, chocolate is high in oxalic acid and theobromine, and over-consumption of chocolate inhibits the balancing of the body's minerals--so enjoy it sparingly.

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