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Monday, January 24, 2011

Eat your kale and get your calcium too!

 Post courtesy of Courtney Mayhew.

Another frequent question I get as a Vegan (even from my healthcare provider) is "aren't you worried about not getting enough calcium?"  This is followed by, "you must have to take a supplement, right?"  Most people assume that the best and only way to get enough calcium in our diets is through the consumption of dairy products.  We are taught at a very young age to "drink your milk for strong bones".   In my nursing masters program, we learned to assess people's calcium intake by asking "how many servings of dairy do you consume each day?".  I could ask any of the nutritionists that I work with today, "what's the best source of calcium for my patient?"  and they are going to tell me, "why (cow's) milk of course".  Do you really think that cows are just born with a lot of calcium?  Now, stop and think about it for a minute.  Why is cow's milk high in calcium?  Cows get calcium from the grass they eat--they are not born with calcium to spare.  Now think about this.  Are dairy cattle allowed to even eat grass anymore?   Nope.  They are confined to feedlots and milking stalls where they are fed a diet fortified with steroids, antibiotics, and yep, you guessed it, calcium.

We are smart people, so why are we, as a country, so brainwashed into believing that dairy products are supreme sources of calcium?   The National Dairy Counsel (AKA Dairy Management Inc.) is a well organized and very well funded group that has been promoting the consumption of milk as far back as 1915.  Their marketing budget in 2003 was 165 billion dollars!  I have to include this excerpt from the China Study by T. Collin Campbell because it enrages me!  I know I've said it before, but this book is a must read. 

The three major program areas for the 2003 Dairy Management Inc. group...

Fluid Milk: In addition to key ongoing activities in advertising, promotion and public relations efforts targeted to children ages 6 to 12 and their mothers, 2003 dairy checkoff efforts will focus on developing and extending partnerships with major food marketers, including Kellogg's, Kraft Foods, and McDonald's.

School Marketing: As part of an effort to guide school age children to become life-long consumers of dairy products, 2003 activities will target students, parents, educators and school food-service professionals. Programs are under way in both the classroom and the lunchroom, where dairy checkoff organizations look to widen the success of the school milk pilot test...

Dairy Image/Confidence: This ongoing program area aims to protect and enhance consumer confidence in dairy products and the dairy industry.  A major component involves conducting and communicating the results of dairy nutrition research showing the healthfulness of dairy products, as well as issues and crisis management...

Are you mad yet?  Well, you should be!  It is absurd to me that as a nation, we allow the dairy industry to come into our schools and teach our children that consuming milk and ice cream is healthy.  They forget to mention that the consumption of increased animal protein increases rates of obesity, heart disease, and osteoporosis, just to name a few.  Whoops, that's not really important, now is it?!
As I mentioned in my earlier post on protein, consuming a diet high in animal protein, changes the balance of our bodies, making it more acidic.  In a more acidic environment, calcium is actually leeched from our bones and excreted in our urine.  Thus causing a higher incidence of osteoporosis, bone fracture, kidney stones, and kidney disease.

These health implications are very important and they definitely influence my decision not to consume animal products.  However, the main reason, I do not consume dairy is because of the implications it has for the cows.  I already touched on this in one of my prior posts "Veganize it", but I think that its worth repeating.

"We are the only species that drinks the milk from another species and we are the only species that continues to consume milk after we are weaned from our mothers.  Cows make milk for the same reason we make milk--to feed their own babies.  Instead, we take away their babies, feed them a milk replacer, and sell their milk.  Cows are repeatedly impregnated in order to keep up with milk production and they are milked twice daily every day of their lives. A cow will naturally produce 16 pounds of milk per day, enough to feed her baby.  Contrary to popular belief, cows actually don't need to be milked!  When left alone, cows produce the perfect amount of milk to feed their calves, which means milking them is unnecessary.  Dairy cattle today are pumped full of hormones and antibiotics in order to increase their milk production to an average of 50 pounds per day!  Guess where those hormones and antibiotics end up.  That's right, in their milk!  Not only that, but the overproduction of milk causes half of these cows to develop mastitis, a bacterial infection of the udder.  Cows are milked regardless of whether they are afflicted, so you're also getting some pus in that milk.  That's right.  Got pus?  Cows have a natural lifespan of 25 years and are typically able to produce milk for 8 to 9 years.  Because of the stress caused by factory farms, dairy cattle in the US are deemed worthless by the industry at age 4 or 5.  They are then sent for slaughter--over one third of the ground beef consumed in this country comes from spent dairy cows.  You must also face the fact that the veal industry is directly connected with the milk industry, so if you are still consuming dairy products you are also supporting the slaughter of malnourished, inhumanely confined calves.  The male calves are tethered to their stall, which is not even large enough for them to turn around.  They become caked in feces and are often found with open sores.  They are fed formula, because that milk which was meant for them was stolen for human consumption.  They are purposely made to be iron-deficient, for the white coloration of their flesh.  These practices are so cruel that they are banned in Europe."  Do you really want to be responsible for any of this cruelty?  I sure don't!  

So, how does a vegan get his/her calcium?!  Its simple--eat a diet high in green veggies, beans, and tofu and you will have no problems.  The average adult should consume roughly 1000 mg of calcium daily.   There has been some discussion that those eating a vegan diet require less calcium because of better absorption but this has not been supported by any research to date.  


1 cup boiled collards                        ~358 mg calcium
1 cup fortified non dairy milk (soy, almond)        ~300 mg calcium
1 tbsp blackstrap molasses                    ~200 mg calcium
½ cup cooked collard greens                    ~200 mg calcium
½ cup calcium-set tofu                        ~200 mg calcium
1 ounce of fortified breakfast cereal            ~200 mg calcium
½ cup cooked kale, turnip greens, or broccoli    ~100 mg calcium
½ cup cooked soybeans                    ~100 mg calcium
¼ cup soy nuts                            ~100 mg calcium
1 package of instant oatmeal                ~100 mg calcium
5 dried figs                                ~100 mg calcium
1 cup boiled swiss chard                    ~102 mg calcium
1 cup butternut squash                        ~84 mg calcium
1 cup chickpeas                            ~80 mg calcium
1 cup sweet potato                            ~70 mg calcium
1 cup green beans or 8 brussels sprouts        ~ 50-60 mg calcium
 2 tbsp almond butter or tahini                ~50-75 mg calcium
½ cup prepared textured vegetable protein        ~50-75 mg calcium
½ cup cooked bok choy                        ~50-75 mg calcium
½ cup tempeh                                ~50-75 mg calcium
1/2 cup cooked navy, black, great northern beans~50-75 mg calcium
1 orange                                    ~50-75 mg calcium
2 tbsp almonds                            ~50-75 mg calcium

I have so many favorite recipes that are chock full of calcium so it was difficult to decide which one to share with this post.  One of my favorites comes from Lauren Ulm's Vegan Yum Yum here--Creamy Sweet Potato Bake.  Both Rachel and I made this for our families over the holidays this year and it was a huge hit.  The "alfredo" sauce is rich, but not too rich, and really creamy.  It pairs nicely with the sweet potatoes and kale.  This dish reheats really well.  You will love it!
Vegan Yum Yum: Decadent (But Doable) Animal-Free Recipes for Entertaining and Everyday

Creamy Sweet Potato Bake

Makes 3-4 servings (but I would argue it makes at least 6 servings)

3 cups pasta
1 head kale divided and chopped (~ 300 mg calcium)
1 1/2 pound sweet potatoes peeled (~210 mg calcium)

Alfredo sauce (Double this recipe)
1 1/4 cup soy milk (~ 450 mg calcium) 
1/2 cup raw unsalted cashews
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
3 T tamari
2 T earth balance margarine
1 T tahini (~50 mg calcium)
1 T lemon juice
1/2 t dijon mustard
1/4 t powdered ginger
1 pinch nutmeg
3/4 t dried thyme
1/2 t paprika
black pepper to taste

bread crumbs for topping (optional, I did not use)

Bring a large pot of water to boil and add the pasta.  Two or three minutes before the pasta is completely cooked, add the chopped kale to the boiling water.  When the pasta is cooked and the kale is bright green but tender, drain and set aside.  Chop the sweet potatoes into bight size chunks and boil until tender but not falling apart.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  To make the alfredo sauce, blend the above ingredients until smooth and creamy.   Combine the pasta, kale, sweet potatoes with the sauce and stir well.  Place in a casserole dish and top with bread crumbs if desired.  Bake for 20 minutes or until hot and bubbly.  Enjoy!!

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