The best known role for calcium is that it is essential for bone health with 99% of calcium being stored in your bones/teeth. However, it is also required in the blood and is involved in cardiac function, releasing hormones such as insulin and in regulating the operation of your muscles, blood vessels and nerves. Unfortunately, most of the Australian population is consuming on average around 20% less than the recommended daily intakes, though worsening to nearly 50% less than the recommended intake in post-menopausal women and older men.

If you do not consume sufficient calcium, your body will take calcium from your bones to maintain adequate levels in the blood, this increases your chance of brittle bones – leading to fractures and osteoporosis. This is especially relevant for women who are particularly susceptible to low calcium levels post-menopause. Please note that there’s a lot of misinformation out there about dairy ‘acidifying the blood and leaching calcium out of your bones’. Be wary of any practitioners touting this nonsense as it illustrates a complete lack of understanding of basic chemistry and physiology and also please note that in the absence of an allergy, dairy does not cause inflammation either.

yoghurtLife Nutrition emphasises the importance of getting your vitamins and minerals from wholefoods where possible. For most of us, around 60% of our calcium comes from dairy products and so restricting these in the absence of a confirmed allergy or intolerance is problematic and highly increases your risk of deficiency.

Bioavailability (or how much calcium actually ends up being absorbed in your body) differs between foods and is reduced in those foods rich in oxalic acid (eg spinach, beans) or phytic acid (seeds, nuts, grains).

Calcium rich foods include:

  • Dairy – milk, cheese or yoghurt or fortified alternatives such as almond, soy, coconut, rice or oat milk – read our article here for more info. Fortification of milk-alternatives should be minimally 275-300mg of calcium/250ml serve and please note to regularly shake these milks during consumption as the calcium salts tend to settle on the bottom and are disproportionally discarded in the dregs.
  • Leafy or cruciferous greens – broccoli, kale, spinach etc
  • Tofu
  • Canned fish with bones (eg salmon or sardines) – note though that canned fish without bones are not a significant source of calcium
  • Beans and lentils
  • Other fortified products (less ideal than naturally occurring calcium in foods, but preferable to taking isolated calcium tablets)

Each day, you should be consuming the following amounts of calcium based on your gender/age:


Supplementation may be required if you cannot consume sufficient calcium for your age/gender via your diet, if you are vegan, if your diet is especially high in sodium and/or protein (as this increases the excretion of Ca) or if you have conditions such as Crohns disease where absorption may be negatively impacted.  Ideally, to maximise absorption – your supplements should be taken twice a day as – generally 2x500mg will be adequate for most.

Note that you should never take above your recommended intake as higher calcium supplement use has been associated with increased risk for prostate cancer, kidney stones and may have negative impacts on heart health. Supplementation can also interfere with other medications – if in doubt, please talk further about this with your pharmacist or doctor.

You need to be very careful with supplementation, especially if there is suspected deficiency in iron, magnesium or zinc as these minerals compete with calcium for digestion/absorption. Try to take your supplements at a time when you are not consuming foods rich in these other minerals, though noting that if you take calcium supplements on an empty stomach this can also cause irritation/digestive upset – so it’s advisable to take your supplements with some food. If you tend to have digestive issues or irritable bowel syndrome, ensure that any supplements/fortified foods contain calcium citrate as this is the supplemental form least likely to cause side effects such as pain, gas or bloating.

  • Note that sometimes supplements may list the calcium in ‘mmol’ units – if so, 1mmol of Calcium = 40mg so you’d be looking for a supplement of around 12.5mmol to be equivalent to a 500mg calcium dose. As your pharmacist for help if required!

Milk Alternatives – A quick review

There are many reasons these days why you may be unable or don’t want to drink cow’s milk – noting that contrary to the baloney spouted by many a ‘health and wellness guru’ – dairy does not cause inflammation in the vast majority of us!

So, which of the ‘milk’ substitutes may be best for you? Almond milk, coconut milk, soy, oat or rice milk – Are any of these better even than cow’s milk itself?

The short answer in terms of overall nutrition is no, as a stand alone liquid – cow’s milk is overall the most nutritious milk followed by soy. The main highlights in the nutrient profile of cow’s milk includes a good amount of quality protein, calcium, vitamin A, D, B vitamins (but notably B2, B12) and Zinc.

An important note on calcium – On average, adult and adolescent intake of calcium in Australia is below our recommended daily intake, and calcium is absolutely critical for bone health.  For most people, 60% of their calcium will come from dairy products and it is largely for this reason that it is recommended that adults should be consuming mimimally 2.5 serves per day of milk, other dairy or dairy substitutes and this rises to 3.5 for men over 70 and to 4 for post-menopausal women.

Some of these milk alternatives will add calcium phosphate, calcium citrate or calcium carbonate into their formulations to address the natural lack of calcium in these ingredients and this added calcium is generally around 10% less bioavailable than the naturally occurring calcium in cow’s milk. Not such a big deal. However, studies have found that these salts often settle towards the bottom of the container and are subsequently disproportionally discarded in the ‘dregs’.

*Note that if you have irritable bowel syndrome or tend to be susceptible to digestive issues such as bloating or gas – ensure you choose a substitute that is fortified with calcium citrate as this will tend to cause fewer side effects than the others.

So, without question, if you are going to drink these alternatives often or as a substitute to cow’s milk – you must make sure that your preferred brand is fortified to contain minimally 275-300mg calcium per 250ml and that you shake your container regularly (and drink those dregs!). (Note that the Oat and Soy milk considered below are not fortified)

Let’s get onto a quick snapshot comparison of the key nutrient values between unsweetened, fortified store-bought formulations of each – and against a reduced and full fat cows milk. This is not to say that other brands or your own homemade versions won’t have different nutrient profiles, but these are just the 7 randomly chosen ‘off the shelf’ milks that I chose to review today.

Products chosen (all unsweetened and options 3-7 are lactose free):

  1. Paul’s Smarter White
  2. Paul’s Full Cream Milk
  3. PureHarvest Oat Milk – note that this product contains gluten
  4. Vitasoy Coconut Milk
  5. PureHarvest Rice Milk
  6. PureHarvest Soy Milk (malt-free)
  7. Sanitarium, So-Good Almond Milk



Note: I have not attempted to score ‘taste’ as this is so personal – but perhaps you could all comment at the end of the article or share on facebook which of the substitutes you’ve found is best for different applications (Is one better for coffee, another for smoothies – are any of them any good at all in baking?)

If you are considering moving away from dairy for whatever reason – there are pros and cons of each milk type and aside from taste, and ensuring that your milk is calcium-enriched – your choice may depend on what key features you’re looking for or what eating plan you maybe following (check your brand as there maybe considerable differences between each!):

  1. Low-energy: Coconut or almond
  2. Low-sodium: Coconut or soy milks
  3. Low-fat: Rice Milk then almond milk
  4. Low-carb/low-sugar: Almond Milk then coconut milk
  5. Higher protein: Soy then oat milk
  6. Other: There maybe allergy or other reasons that you cannot consume soy or nut milks and this may restrict your choice. Note also that oat milk contains gluten

As each of these milks has specific nutritional highlights, often the best approach when substituting a nutritionally well-rounded product with less-nutritious substitutes is to mix it up so that they complement one another. Some of these features include:

  1. Almond milk has heart-healthy fats
  2. Rice milk tends to be the best milk for those with many allergies/suspected allergies
  3. Oat milk has beta-glucan with helps lower cholesterol
  4. Soy milk contains isoflavones or a type of phytoestrogens that may play a role in protecting against some cancers. However, there are certain medical situations where you may be advised to limit your soy intake (eg women with oestrogen-dependent breast cancer)

So, hope you enjoyed this mini-review and if you drink any such substitutes – don’t forget to go and check that you have a fortified version (min 275-300mg calcium/250ml) and try not to get stuck on the one option, but change it up for better rounded nutrition.

Holy cow! Why is everybody getting inflamed over dairy these days?

Creamy, decadent icecream, milkshakes, cheese – both pungent and delightful, morning yoghurt. Hearing mention of these foods make some of us drift off to our happy place while others recoil in horror at the thought of being anywhere near all this (alleged) inflammation-inducing, stomach cramping, skin breakout-causing dairy.


Is it time that we rethink dairy as a ‘staple’ in our diets, even putting aside the often-touted but totally irrelevant catchphrase that ‘cow’s milk is meant for calves, not humans’ – or is dairy totally fine to consume and too many people are getting all whipped up over nothing?

Firstly – what is inflammation and why do we care?

Inflammation is basically a response from your immune system to counteract an attack, injury and heal the affected tissues and restore normal functionality. Acute inflammation (think when you’ve fallen off the bar while dancing spectacularly and twisted your ankle) has a rapid onset and often can be quite severe and at times visually very impressive – snapchat that! However, chronic or low-grade inflammation may not be quite so dramatic or visible but can nonetheless contribute to the progression of many auto-immune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and also some cancers, type 2 diabetes and atherosclerosis (build up of plague in your arteries – not good).

So very logically – we want to reduce chronic inflammation and avoid anything that may contribute to this long-term, destructive process in our bodies and as such, dairy is in the sights of many as a highly suspected culprit. However, in my research for this article, I have failed to find an explanation as to why or how dairy is supposed to inflame your body – most anti-dairy articles just state it as a fact without any backup research and then proceed to talk about milk intolerance or allergy – which are different issues entirely. Certainly, if you have a milk allergy and consume dairy – inflammation will result – as it would for the ingestion or exposure to any allergen that you happen to be allergic to (thanks Captain Obvious!). Similarly, the vast majority of milk intolerance is caused by having insufficient lactase (the enzyme required to break down lactose) – and this will result all manner of unpleasant side-effects upon dairy consumption – but the incidence of this in a caucasian population is only about 1 in 20 – noting that it is higher in those with Asian, Africa, Middle Easter or Indigenous backgrounds.

This would indicate that for the vast majority of us who do not have a milk allergy or milk intolerance, dairy will not cause inflammation. This is confirmed by the vast body of research, including a really indepth systematic review (Bordoni et Al) of 52 clinical trials which found no evidence (other than those with allergies) that either full or low-fat dairy was inflammatory and in fact concluded that it was quite the opposite and that it was beneficial for inflammation, especially in those with metabolic disorders (including obesity) for whom low-grade inflammation is particularly concerning.

Additionally, there is overwhelming evidence that has consistently shown dairy consumption to be beneficial for cardiovascular health, type 2 diabetes risk, weight loss and control, bone health and for hypertension (or high blood pressure).

So, if you don’t like dairy, convinced that it doesn’t make you feel good, are against it for ethical or environmental reasons – then by all means feel free not to consume it as there are many other brilliant foods out there that can provide the calcium, potassium, Vitamin D, protein etc that are in dairy. But please please – just don’t let the ‘wellness gurus’ or scaremongers use the feared ‘inflammation’ argument to convince you to put down your latte or flat white ‘just the way you like it’ as it can certainly still be considered a ‘staple’ in the diet of most.


If you choose to include dairy in your diet, serving suggestions for adults is generally 2.5 serves/day or up to 4 in some older age groups or teenagers.

yogurt with superfood granola and blueberries

Milk over wholegrain cereal with fruit and nuts


A serving could be:

  • 250ml glass of milk
  • 200g tub of yoghurt
  • 40g (2 slices) of cheese



To conclude: if you are worried about low-grade inflammation – you’d be far better off putting down the smokes, being less of a boozehound, getting moving with some regular exercise, losing excess weight safely and including the over-all quality of your diet with more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and Omega-3 rich foods including fish.


All this talk of dairy – I may just go off now and make myself a good smoothie!