Calcium Without Dairy

If you follow any part of my real food approach, then you already know that I do not do dairy.  While I really like a warm, stringy, cheesy stuffed pepper as much as the next person, I do not like the zits it causes.  Other people do not like the gas and bloating it causes, and still others do not like the ache of their inflamed joints or the constant drip of their runny nose after consuming dairy.

The good news, there is hope for the masses who choose to live dairy free.  If we make educated food and beverage choices, then we can get much of the calcium we need from foods and beverages.  Short pause for a mini-disclaimer.  I am not a doctor and cannot diagnose or treat illnesses or diseases.  This information is for informational purposes only.  It is your responsibility to see your healthcare provider to determine the status of your bone health and create a plan to prevent or treat your own ailments.  Okay, let’s move on…
We already know that calcium is super important.  It is a mineral important for maintaining strong bones and teeth.  What many do not know though, is the small fraction of calcium in the blood is kept in a very narrow range, and is important for blood clotting and regulating muscle contractions such as your heart.  
Dietary Reference Intakes (aka DRI) from the Institute of Medicine is 1000 mg for adults 19-50 years old and 1200 mg for adults 51-70 years old.  Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding need 1000-1300 mg. 
One of the main reasons dairy is recommended as the primary source of calcium is due its bioavailability, which simply means how much of the calcium in the food or beverage is available to be absorbed by the body.  Dairy provides the highest percentage of bioavailable calcium when compared to vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and legumes.  This is because plant-based sources of calcium also contain nutrients that inhibit absorption of calcium.  These are known as anti-nutrients, and include oxalates and phytates.  
On the other hand there are other nutrients, such as magnesium, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin D and boron that work along with calcium to enhance absorption. So, all of that to say…it is still possible to get calcium from plant-based sources by eating an abundance of different kinds of plants.  I eat over a pound of vegetables every day.  It does my body good.

The Diary Nutrition website has an awesome chart that puts the concept of bioavailability into perspective.  For example, it takes 3.2 cups of kale to provide the equivalent amount of calcium available in 1 cup of milk.  So, the point here is for those of us who do not or cannot consume dairy we must mindfully select foods, beverages and possibly even supplements to ensure we are getting enough calcium for optimal health…and you know how I feel about optimal health…it feels good and looks good, so it must be good.
I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but that is intentional.  Please understand that if we do not include food group that has  a significant source of nutrients,  then we must replace those nutrients in other forms.  That requires planning and expanding our culinary horizons.  Bacon and eggs taste great, but are not necessarily going to save the world unless we combine them with a  heaping pile of vegetables to add color, goodness and, of course calcium.
Here are my top 5 tips for getting calcium if you don’t do dairy
  1. Eat at least 1 serving of vegetables at every meal.  This is equivalent to 1/2 cup of cooked vegetables, 1 cup of raw vegetables or 2 cups of leafy greens.  Work up to eating a pound of vegetables daily. Check the references at the bottom of this post for lists of foods that contain calcium.
  2. Try selecting seafood options with tiny little bones that are safe for consumption.  Those bones are filled with calcium and minerals and all the goodness we need.  The other great news is that these foods are more bioavailable then plant-based sources.  For an added bonus they also contain protein and omega 3 fatty acids, which help reduce inflammation, protect our heart and do other great things for us.
    • 3 ounces of canned salmon with bones contains 170-210 mg of calcium
    • 3 ounces of sardines contains 370 mg of calcium
    • 3 ounces of canned mackerel contains 250 mg of calcium
  3. Drink homemade bone broth.  Oh the goodness coming from bone broth is infinite.  It is filled with minerals and collagen.  It even has properties for healing and maintaining joint and gut health.  Stay tuned for a future blog post on this topic.  For now you can check out the Wellness Mama for her take on this good stuff and to get her recipe.  I prefer to make my bone broth in the slow cooker and love this post from Team Nutrition Genius.
  4. Add plenty of nuts and seeds to your diet if you can tolerate them.  A great snack might include 2 ounces of tahini (sesame paste) blended with 1 cup of sprouted garbanzo beans and garlic, salt, pepper to taste.  This is also know as humus and pairs really well with carrots and celery…yum!
  5. Check with your healthcare provider to determine if you need to supplement.  We can only absorb 500-600 mg of calcium at one time.  If you need a higher dosage, then split it up throughout the day.  You may also want to check out why Chris Kresser recommends eating your calcium rather than popping a pill for it.
And now for one last consideration.  There are products fortified with calcium, such as orange juice,  non-dairy milks, breads, cereals and crackers.  None of these are a part of my real food pantry for several reasons.  First, these items require a lot of processing that removes their natural goodness and adds in nutrients that did not exist before.  Second, all of these items include additives, preservatives, added sugars and other ingredients that most of us cannot pronounce.  Some of these ingredients can be difficult to digest, cause irritation and can lead to a leaky gut.  The added sugars also increase blood glucose.  If your body is anything like mine, then this sends me on a blood sugar roller coaster and inevitably I am hangry later.  Lastly, many of these products have shelf lives longer than my natural life. I do not trust food that does not go bad. 

So, once agin have no fear.  We can have strong bones and meet our calcium needs by eating real foods, even if we do not eat dairy.  Choose wisely and contact me at for your own nutrient assessment.

That’s it for now.  Hope this helps.
A Guide to Calcium-Rich Foods, National Osteoporosis Foundation.  Accessed at
Calcium and Bioavailability, Dairy Nutrition.  Accessed at 
Calcium Content of Foods – UCSF Medical Center.  Accessed at
Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D, Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, November 2010.  Accessed at 

Vitamins & Minerals Health Centre, WebMD.  Accessed at 

Smoothie is Not King

I came to a disappointing realization this week. Smoothies do not make a good breakfast for me…again, so disappointing. My husband drinks one every morning, and has been for several months. I decided to join in the morning smoothie goodness out of convenience, because our microwave is on the fritz and I cannot heat up my usual egg and greens scramble. 
This week my husband and I are having the exact same smoothie. They fill him up and leave him satiated for hours.  (Satiated being a fancy nutrition word for feeling full and satisfied.) He does not need a snack between breakfast and lunch. On the other hand I drink the same smoothie and still feel hungry afterwards. I also get hangry (hungry and angry as a result of low blood sugar) and shaky 2-3 hours later and MUST have a snack before lunch. This does not happen with my usual breakfast of eggs and greens.
I did a quick nutrient analysis on this week’s recipe just to make sure it was Grateful Guts balanced, meaning it had adequate protein, plenty of fat and was high fiber.  The analysis met my criteria.  It was very nutrient dense, with 50% of calories coming from healthy fat, 20% coming from protein and 30% coming from carbohydrates, with more than 9 grams of fiber.  
The nutrient breakdown is ideal, so the question of the week…what is my problem?  The answer…nothing, I have no problem. This is one of the best examples that demonstrates how individualized nutrition is for each person. What works for my husband does not work for me. 
You see foods that are blended or juiced are already partially broken down/partially digested before they even get to your stomach, which makes the rest of the digestion easier for your gut and faster. I simply digest, absorb and metabolize the nutrients in smoothies faster than my husband does. My body functions a lot better when I have to chew my food rather than just drink it.
To recap, the moral of this story is that everyone’s nutrient needs are different in form and function.
Just because smoothies do not work for me as a complete meal, does not mean that they will not work for others, my husband is a prime example. Most importantly, when testing smoothies for yourself, remember to ensure that it is nutrient dense and balanced.  Create a real meal in a glass rather than a sugar bomb that will send you on a blood sugar roller coaster and leave you hangry within 2 hours.   
Follow these tips for making balanced smoothie creations:

  1.  Use water as the main liquid source.
  2. Add healthy fat using sources such as full fat coconut milk from the can, coconut oil, avocados or MCT oil.
  3. Stuff in at least 2 handfuls of greens. I like spinach the best, but kale works well too.
  4. Find a quality protein powder and avoid junky ingredients and additives.  My best recommendations are high quality gelatin, like that found from Great Lakes; an unflavored grass fed whey protein powder; or a vegan protein powder that has at least 2 sources of plant-based protein. We use Sun Warrior. Regardless of the protein powder you use select a brand that has 5 ingredients or less.
  5. Add ½-1 cup of high fiber fruits.  Berries are my favorite. Right now we are using fresh blueberries because they are in season. During the winter we buy frozen organic berries.
  6. Use ½ of a banana if you need a little extra sweetness.
  7. When assembling your smoothie, put all of the liquids and greens in first and blend until the greens are liquefied.  Add the remaining ingredients and blend until you reach your desired texture.
  8. Follow the Grateful Guts recipe for making a big batch of smoothies in advance. This recipe makes 5 servings that are 2 cups each.
·         32 ounces water
·         1 can full fat coconut milk
·         1 avocado
·         5 handfuls of greens from the farmer’s market or a 5 ounce package
·         1 ½ cups fresh berries or 10 ounce package of frozen berries (buy organic)
·         1 banana
·         5 scoops Sun Warrior protein powder

Good Carb, Bad Carb, Real Carb

Confession, I have been working on this post for a few weeks, anytime we have been on a road trip. I mean really, who doesn’t write blog posts in the car? Besides the fact that I have not worked on this post unless I have been traveling, you must also understand that I get motion sick really easily. It has been some kind of mini-miracle that my sentences are coherent (at least I hope they are). And please excuse any typos. My thumbs got quite a workout putting this together.
Anyway, a long long time ago (sung to the tune of American Pie by Don McLean … much of my internal dialogue is in musical form to tunes that most often I cannot name the title, song or artist, just random verses), I indirectly received a question/comment inquiring about my take on carbs found in fruits. My response comes in the form of this post, because that is a complex discussion.
So, the quick answer to the question about my opinion of sugar found in fruit – if it is coming from a real food source and is chewed, not drank, then it is acceptable and fits into my lifestyle. HOWEVER it is a simple sugar, and when over consumed elevates blood glucose (blood sugar) and increases triglycerides…among several other things.
I do not believe in “good” food, “bad” food. All real food is good. To me real food is defined as recognizable and coming from as close to its natural source as possible with minimal, if any, processing before it gets to my mouth. Think apples, roasted potatoes, bone-in pork chops, all fresh vegetables. Anything that is pre-processed, packaged in plastic, contains ingredients I cannot pronounce or recognize as a food source, has a shelf life longer than my natural life or requires excessive temperature changes to modify its molecular structure for product sustainability is not a real food and is not something worth my money, time, possible gut disturbance, acne or foul mood.
I do not follow a low carb diet per se, but since I take a real food approach and eat a lot of high quality fat my carb intake is much lower than someone who follows a standard American diet (SAD).
I think one of the reasons carbs get such a bad wrap (opportunity for food pun here) is that most people do not actually understand what a carb is or its various functions. Carbs are actually one of three macronutrients, the other two being protein and fat. Macronutrients contain calories and are important for fueling our bodies (carbs), providing the building blocks of our tissues and support optimal immune function (protein) and are important for nerve conduction, hormone regulation and protecting our organs (fat).
Carbohydrates are derived from plant sources and contains carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. The simple form of a carbohydrate is glucose, and the more complex form is either starch or fiber (also known as cellulose).
Simple carbohydrates are sweet tasting and are easily broken down to glucose. Forms of simple carbs, called monosaccharides are glucose, fructose and galactose. Glucose is the building block of simple carbs. Fructose is found in fruits. Galactose is found in dairy products. Disaccharides are formed from two monosaccharides, which we know more commonly as sucrose, or table sugar (fructose and glucose), lactose found in dairy products (galactose and glucose) and maltose found in barley, which is then fermented to make beer (glucose and glucose).
The complex carbohydrates, starch and fiber, are known as polysaccharides, which are much longer chains of carbohydrates that cannot be broken down as easily as simple sugars. Complex carbs are also slightly bitter tasting and tend to have rougher, grainy textures. Starch is the storage form of energy in the plant world. It can be broken down to glucose after many biochemical processes, therefore it can become a source of energy for the body…or in excess it gets stored for later use.
Fiber, or cellulose, on the other hand is a ribbon-like molecule that provides structure to the cell walls of plants. Fibers cannot be broken down by human digestion, which means they are not a source of energy. They serve important purposes though. Soluble fiber can become a gloppy-like substance (gloppy being the unscientific term for gelatinized) that slows down the rate at which contents leave your stomach, therefore helping you stay full longer. It also helps create bulky stool for people with diarrhea, and helps lower LDL cholesterol. Soluble fiber is found in oatmeal, the fleshy part of an apple, oranges, lentils, berries, nuts, carrots and cucumbers, just to name a few sources. Insoluble fiber cannot be digested and does not react with water. It is like a scrub brush for your intestines. It can increase gut motility, which is a fancy way of saying it can speed up digestion and have a laxative effect that helps prevent constipation. Insoluble fiber is found in whole grains and many different vegetables. It is also in the skin of foods like apples and potatoes.
Just knowing carb basics does not explain why all carbs are not created equal. Sometimes their may be inflammation, an imbalance of gut bacteria or even a gastrointestinal condition that makes digestion, absorption and metabolism of carbs difficult for some people. Simply put when certain forms of mono and polysaccharides are consumed they can be fermented in the gut rather digested and absorbed. Fermenting produces gas and bloating and general discomfort. This is why some people may not be able to tolerate an apple, but may be able to tolerate strawberries. The biochemical explanation for this is quite complex, but suffice it to say that restoring gut health can help you increase the variety of carbs you can to tolerate.
Another important point is that any carb consumed in excess will be converted to fat for storage. In fact any macronutrient consumed in excess is turned to fat for storage. Excess carbs can increase blood glucose, throw off insulin regulation, increase triglycerides, increase inflammation and contribute to many chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers and dementia.
Knowing how many carbs to consume and in what forms is not something that most people think about beyond the “good carb/bad carb” mentality that has been drilled into the brains of those in mainstream society in recent years, so I’ve compiled my top five tips that may be helpful for the average person who does not have autoimmune issues or existing chronic diseases (we’ll save those recommendations for private client who need very specific, individualized plans…contact me for more info). Also these tips are functional for those taking a real food approach or just making the transition.
1. Chew more nutrition than you drink. This means drink more water, unsweetened tea or coffee and avoid juice. That’s right. Juice is not a health food. It is more closely related to sugar water, aka soda. You will get far more nutrition from eating the entire fruit because the food version contains all of the vitamins, minerals, FIBER and phytochemicals that get left behind when you just drink the juice. Smoothies should be consumed in moderation, if at all. Check out @gratefulguts on Instagram for #gratefulgutsmadehusbandapproved recipes made with appropriate amounts of protein, fat and carbs for a mini-meal.
2. Get simple sugars, starch and fiber from whole fruits and an abundance of vegetables. Aim for at least 1, ideally 2, servings of vegetables at each meal, including breakfast. Select 2-3 servings of fruit per day.
3. Avoid most, if not all grains, especially in the form of breakfast cereals, pastries, snack foods, bread/toast and pasta. These are not real foods anyway, so this recommendation should not come as a surprise. These foods are highly processed and contribute to excessive intake of carbs, deteriorating health problems, expanding waistlines, gut issues etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Most of these foods also contain gluten, which is a topic for another blog post…or podcast (hint, hint).
4. Limit, or avoid, alcohol if trying to reduce carb intake. All alcohol is carbohydrate-based. The carbs in barley (beer), starch in potatoes (vodka), fructose in grapes (wine) are fermented to create the beloved beverages. Alcohol can also serve as an endocrine disruptor that sends us on a blood sugar roller coaster.
5. Ditch the soda. No good comes from these, even if you have an upset stomach. If you like carbonation, then try getting seltzer water and infusing it with your own combination of fresh fruit or veggies (berries, citrus, cucumber).
This topic is huge and brings up many other opportunities for discussion and future posts. Stay tuned for other topics including gluten, blood sugar regulation, real food snacks, real food sweeteners and much more. Be sure to to like the Grateful Guts Facebook page and follow @gratefulguts on Instagram.