Nondairy Calcium: Why? How?

In recent months, this column has touched on our food choices and their impact on global warming. Since the Food and Agriculture Organization’s recent report “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, many of us are choosing to be part of the solution, rather than worsening the problem. The FAO report confirmed that livestock, including dairy cattle, are a major contributor to today’s serious environmental problems and that urgent action is required to remedy the situation. (See http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2006/1000448/index.html  )

One step we can take is to select non-dairy sources of dietary calcium. Fortunately, Health Canadais in tune with this problem solving approach, and for the first time, has officially included milk alternatives in Canada’s new Food Guide. (See http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/food-guide-aliment/index_e.html ) Here, fortified soymilk is featured as a clear alternative to dairy, and a great way to get your calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients.

It’s about time! Until spring 2007,Canada’s Food Guide presented us with no options to dairy products. No matter that about 70 percent of the world’s population has some degree of difficulty digesting milk, including Canadian aboriginal people and large segments of the rest of us who came to this wonderful country as immigrants. In fact, lactose intolerance is a perfectly normal condition. After the age of weaning (about 4 years old), the intestinal lactase enzyme that digests the sugar (lactose) in human or cow’s milk diminishes.  This seems reasonable; after weaning milk digestion should be unnecessary! Without lactase enzyme, lactose remains undigested; abdominal distension, bloating, and discomfort result.

Humans do not require cow’s milk. We have many ways to get the nutrients it contains. For more on this topic, see the books “Becoming Vegetarian”, “Becoming Vegan” or the “Food Allergy Survival Guide”, all available at libraries, through bookstores or online. Also try recipes in “Extra Vegan Za”, the new book by Lauren Mattias of Victoria. (http://www.phoenixfarm.ca/extraveganza.htm )

Fortunately, more restaurants are featuring calcium-rich alternatives to dairy. Many coffee, tea, and chai spots provide fortified soy milk– from the Dharma Kitchen and Chai restaurant on West Broadway through to Wendel’s in Fort Langley, plus all the Starbucks in between.

Green veggies have gained fame as calcium sources: kale, broccoli, bok choy, collards, napa cabbage (sui choy) and okra. In fact these greens contain calcium that is absorbed by our bodies twice as well as that from dairy products. Look for these greens on restaurant menus. In Vancouver, you can load up on broccoli in some tasty dishes at The Foundation at 2301 Main St(at 7th); this spot is fun if you’re in your twenties or want to feel like you’re in your twenties.  If you haven’t known what to do with kale, here’s a solution from our Becoming Raw; this recipe supplies 166 mg of calcium per serving; the dressing is amazing.

Kale Salad with Orange Ginger Dressing

The calcium comes from kale (chopped matchstick thin), tahini, juice, and other veggies. For any unfamiliar ingredients, ask at natural foods stores.


1 cup orange juice

2 Tbsp minced fresh ginger

2 tsp sesame oil (optional)

2 Tbsp sesame tahini

2 Tbsp miso

2 Tbsp cider vinegar

2 Tbsp Bragg’s or tamari

4 dates, pitted, soaked

cayenne or black pepper, to taste



1 bunch kale, de-stemmed and thinly sliced

1 cup thinly sliced red cabbage

1 to 2 carrots, grated or julienned

½ cup daikon, julienned

½ red pepper, thinly sliced

¼ cup cilantro or parsley, chopped

¼ cup mint, chopped

dulse flakes (optional)

sesame seeds

In large mixing bowl, combine salad ingredients and toss well. Combine dressing ingredients in blender and process until smooth. Adjust seasoning. Add dressing, to taste, to salad. Toss to combine.  Marinate at least 20 minutes before serving.  Kale also can be marinated separately, up to one day ahead. Serves 4 to 6.

Vesanto Melina, is a Registered Dietitian in Langley BC and co-author of seven food and nutrition classics; she regularly consults for people who wish to improve their health or are in dietary transition. Web: www.camd58.sg-host.com Email: vesanto@camd58.sg-host.com ; Phone: 604-882-6782.


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