Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Calcium Wars

During the past year, there has been a great deal of intramural bickering within the Vegan nutritional community regarding the role of calcium and osteoporosis, and the specific needs of vegans for this important nutrient. The origin of the controversy appeared to have begun with the publication of Amy Lanou’s book, Building Bone Vitality. In her book, Lanou implies that calcium requirements for vegans are less than for omnivores. She supports her theory with data from the WHO, which in 2003 suggested that approximately 520 mg were needed to keep most of us in physiological balance.

A more current report from the WHO recommends 1000mg for adults residing in developed countries. This recommendation coincides with the RDA of 1000mg for adults in the US. Their extensive 35 page report examines world wide data in coming to their conclusion

There are many unanswered questions regarding genetic, environmental and geographic differences within populations. It is quite easy to draw inferences from this scant data, but in my opinion there are too few studies of vegans to draw any definitive conclusions that would justify alienating the vast majority of the vegan inclined scientific community who support the federal recommendations.

I generally do not presume that one can really know why people take certain positions. More often than not, when I have done this, I have been totally off base, much to my embarrassment. Having stated the illogic of presuming someone else’s motive, I’m going to give you my best shot in the dark take on the matter:

If there were a hierarchy of suffering in the animal world, dairy cows would be at the top of the ladder. The length of their unnatural confinement, and the intolerable conditions they are forced to live in, would motivate any feeling person to do anything they could to mitigate this situation.

The Dairy Council is one of the most powerful and successful lobbies in the country. Their “Got Milk and Happy Cow’’ campaigns are the envy of the media industry. The established vegetarian organizations have attempted to counter this corporate blitz by evoking the scientific argument that human beings after weaning, don’t require milk, and indeed the majority of the population have some degree of difficulty digesting milk.

In my opinion, some national organizations have spent too much energy on discounting the milk myth and not enough of their resources in helping people meet their nutritional needs from plant sources. They may believe that by setting the bar lower, more people will be able to reach this goal. I agree that getting people to consume more kale,collards and white beans can be a challenge, but it is one that I feel we can meet.

I envision a campaign emphasizing the fact that cows get their calcium naturally from greens and that we should bypass them in the equation, and go directly to the source This approach will be far more beneficial for us, and certainly much better for our beleaguered dairy cows.

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