What’s all the hype about calcium in dairy?

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What’s all the hype about calcium in dairy?

I was messing around with Wolphram|Alpha today doing some nutritional comparisons of different foods. Here’s the result of the query “calcium 1 cup milk vs 1 cup tofu“:

Calcium in 1 cup of milk vs 1 cup of tofu

Calcium in 1 cup of milk vs 1 cup of tofu

This is pretty astonishing. I never see anything in the milk  ads or on dairy websites that would indicate that tofu has more calcium than milk. They always just say that milk is the best source of calcium. Tofu’s even a better source of iron.

But, you say, the calcium in milk is more easily absorbed by our bodies? Perhaps not. I looked around and found this chart of calcium bioavailability (how readily absorbable it is by our bodies) of different foods from the Linus Pauling Institue at Oregon State University. Note that the serving sizes of the different foods are all much smaller than the serving size of milk. For example, 8 oz of milk is 227 grams, while 1/2 cup of tofu is only 130 grams. That makes the serving of milk almost twice the size of the serving of tofu. 130 grams of tofu is a bit less than 1/2 a package of tofu, while 8 oz of milk is a full glass of milk.

Bioavailability of calcium in different foods

Bioavailability of calcium in different foods

You might notice that 1.2 servings of tofu has the same amount of bioavailable calcium as 1 serving of milk. And that serving of milk is a bit larger than the serving of tofu. You might also see that Chinese cabbage has the same amount of bioavailable calcium as 1 serving of milk. Considering that 1 serving of Chinese cabbage is smaller than 1 serving of milk, this means that Chinese cabbage has more calcium than milk.

So, why does everyone promote milk as such a great source of calcium, when there are better sources? It’s a mystery to me (although I’d bet it involves substantial influence by the dairy industry on universities and agencies that study nutrition). Dairy production has a far greater impact on the environment and animal suffering than either tofu production or Chinese cabbage farming, so it really doesn’t make sense that this information isn’t more readily available.

I also came across this chart on the “Dairy Goodness” website (a production of the ubiased folks over at the Dairy Farmers of Canada).

The calcium contained in selected sources in decreasing order of the amount absorbed by the body.

The calcium contained in selected sources in decreasing order of the amount absorbed by the body.

Here’s the tricky part: notice that they order the chart by column 5 “Calcium absorbed (mg).” But also note that the serving of milk is twice the size of the serving size of the rest of the foods.  They also don’t mention tofu, of course! This chart is an example of misinformation – an effort by the dairy industry to skew the facts available to make milk look like the best choice, when in fact it is not. A clear case of “whitewashing” (pun intended).

Also, with so many easy and more nutritious alternatives, is there any excuse to support the dairy industry, which directly causes the veal industry and the horrors detailed below?


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