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Where Do Cows Get Their Calcium?

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January 27, 2012

By Janice Stanger, Ph.D., author of "The Perfect Formula Diet" and presenter at the Feb. 19 Portland Potluck.

The popular media and USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans bombard the public with food fairy tales that are flat out not true. You must be vigilant to protect your health and figure out the real story. If you hear the same nutritional advice repeated for years, it’s natural to accept it without questioning. Bad idea. This misinformation can truly harm you and keep you from choosing the optimal diet.

Calcium is a way over-hyped nutrient. Yes, calcium is a vital mineral. We can’t live without it, and neither can other animals and plants. The myth you hear all the time is that you need high amounts of calcium, and the best place to get it is from dairy products. This USDA guideline recommends the unreal amount of three cups of dairy or soy milk a day for anyone age 9 or older. Let’s leave behind the infomercials and consider the facts.

One logical question is, “Where do cows get their calcium?” Calcium is a mineral, which means it is not alive and was never alive. Instead, it comes from rocks. The calcium in the rocks dissolves in water, whether rainwater, a river, or some other water source. Plants have roots that reach into the soil and absorb nutrients the plants need to be healthy and reproduce. One of those nutrients is the dissolved calcium.

Plants actively regulate the amount of calcium they absorb and its metabolism within the plant. Calcium is a vital part of the structure of plant cell walls, plant immunity against microbes, and overall plant strength. Calcium also helps the plant transport and retain other minerals that it needs. However, it’s definitely not a case of “the more, the better.” Either too much or too little calcium weakens the plant and can even kill it.

With all these critical functions, calcium pervades plant tissue. Animals do not eat rocks or soil, so are dependent on plants to get this nutrient. The calcium in animals (including cows) comes from eating plants directly or from eating animals that ate plants.

Cows cannot make calcium any more than they can make any other mineral, such as gold, silver, or platinum. The calcium in dairy products is recycled from the plants the cows ate. You can get all the calcium you need by eating green leafy plants, the same as our farmed animal friends do.

The calcium myths do not stop with the best source of calcium. The amount of calcium you are advised to eat may be too high. Excess calcium causes havoc in your body, just as it does in a plant. On top of that, calcium is a brittle mineral with little to do with the strength of your bones.

A whole foods, plant-based diet that includes a wide variety of food choices is the key to getting the optimal amount of calcium as well other minerals, vitamins, fiber, calories, phytochemicals, protein, and other nutrients.

To learn more about the calcium myth and nine other dangerous food fairy tales, please join us at the presentation, “Ten Dangerous Nutrition Myths,” on February 19: You can also consult several blogs that address nutrition myths at

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