Green Leafy Vegetables -
Not Milk - Said Best For Bones
By Maggie Fox
Reuters Health
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A vegetarian-oriented nutritional group countered mainstream medicine and the dairy industry on Tuesday by asserting that vegetables are a better weapon against osteoporosis than milk.
It is far better to get calcium from leafy green vegetables and orange juice, the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a non-profit U.S. group, said.
"It is vital to understand that milk is useless against osteoporosis, so that people will understand what really does help," Neal Barnard, president of PCRM, said in a statement.
"Milk is no substitute for exercise, avoiding animal protein and sodium that deplete calcium, and other factors."
The group cited studies that show people who drink milk do not necessarily have fewer bone breaks -- the most dangerous outcome of osteoporosis, or thinning bones.
In 1997 Diane Feskanich and colleagues of the Harvard School of Public Health used data from the Nurses' Health Study - a project involving tens of thousands of U.S. nurses - to show that those who drank more milk throughout their lives had a higher risk of bone fracture in old age than those who consumed few dairy products.
Robert Cumming of the University of Sydney tested 416 people over the age of 65 and found that those who remembered eating and drinking the most dairy products also had the highest risk of a hip fracture.
"Milk does not protect against bone breaks," Patricia Bertron, a registered dietitian at PCRM, told a news conference.
"Americans have always been told to drink milk yet 10 million Americans have osteoporosis."
Although dairy is rich in calcium, it is also high in fat, the PCRM said. And the high protein content of milk may help prevent the calcium from being properly absorbed by the body.
The best source of calcium, according to the group, is fortified orange juice. An eight ounce glass has 350 mg of calcium and 130 mg of these are absorbed.
This compares to eight ounces of milk, which has 291 mg of calcium, 93 mg of which are absorbed. Nearly as good as milk is a cup of cooked mustard greens, which has 128 mg of calcium, 74 mg of which are absorbed.
The dairy industry countered these views even before the PCRM news conference.
"Milk is a critical part of our everyday diet," Judith Stern, a nutrition professor at the University of California, Davis, said in a statement.
"This country is facing an epidemic of osteoporosis, a precentable and treatable disease," Sandra Raymond, executive director of the National Osteoporosis Foundation, said in another statement.
"The typical American gets only about 600 mg of calcium a day in their diet, about half of what they need."
Groups like hers have decided that Americans are much more likely to eat dairy products than green leafy vegetables, beans and other non-dairy sources of calcium, so they strongly advise eating plenty of low-fat dairy.
All experts on osteoporosis also agree that weight-bearing exercise - such as running, brisk walking and lifting weights - is one of the best ways to build strong bones. They also advise against smoking and alcohol.