I have been on a dairy-free diet since February and for me personally it has been helping with the brain fog issue, scalp eczema, and experiences of fear/panic attacks/existential anxiety. I have tried all sorts of dairy – fermented, non-fermented, lactose-free, goat milk, sheep milk, kefir, yogurt. In the end, I found that I feel better on the days when I do not consume dairy and that the negative effects of it make it not worth it for me to continue consuming it. Some dairy has significant levels of the vitamin B12 and iodine, but those nutrients are not difficult to find elsewhere. Chicken liver, eggs, and salmon contain enough vitamin B12. Eggs also contain iodine and I use iodized salt when cooking. The main element I was concerned about when I stopped eating dairy was calcium. I tried taking calcium supplements for a while but I experienced quite negative side-effects such as frequent urination, constipation, and abdominal bloating. I decided to therefore look for natural sources of calcium that are dairy-free.
It’s possible to obtain enough calcium from fortified plant milks, and that might be the easiest option, if that works for you. I’m not sure though that it would be any different from just taking a calcium supplement, because plant milks are fortified with the same calcium carbonate. I am also not a fan of fortified plant milks as there is some evidence that consuming a lot of extra vitamin B12 and folate, which are added to plant milks in high amounts, can increase the risk of some cancers.
Also I found that fortified plant milks increased my anxiety and occurrence of nightmares, I found the same effects when I was taking a B12 supplement on its own. I consume enough B12 through eggs, meat, and fish, and enough folate through legumes and fruits, therefore my assumption is that the extra vitamins from fortified plant milks had negative effects for me. If you have no problem with vegan substitute products, then you can easily obtain enough calcium without diary by eating fortified vegan plant milks, vegan yogurts, vegan cheese. Tofu also usually has calcium sulfate added to it. Unfortunately I experienced worsening of scalp eczema when eating soy frequently, but if soy is not a problem for you, fortified soy milk and tofu are good sources of calcium.
Since I am currently not consuming a lot of soy products and not consuming plant milks, I had to find other sources of calcium. After looking through nutritional info for various foods, I found that the best way to get enough calcium is to consume bones. Most of the calcium is stored in bones, and only small amounts are found in blood and tissues.
The easiest way to consume bones is by eating canned salmon and canned sardines. You can check the nutrition info on the cans, the salmon needs to be “with skin and bones”, not just the file. The can of salmon that I bought contains in total 363mg of calcium, which is about 30% of daily value (DV). A can of sardines can contain up to 40% of DV of calcium. You can eat the fish right out of the can or add to soup. Another source of calcium is chia seeds, two table spoons contain around 18% of DV. You can add chia seeds to oatmeal in the morning. Another way to eat some bones is by cooking bone broth. There is no evidence that calcium leaks into the actual broth, the amount is very minimal, so you would have to eat the softened bones themselves. I usually cook a broth with chicken or turkey bones for at least an hour, then they are soft enough to actually eat.
Best natural sources of calcium: canned sardines, canned salmon, chicken/turkey bones from bone broth, chia seeds
Why do humans need calcium?
Calcium is required for multiple processes in the human body. 99% of the calcium is stored in bones and only 1% is found in blood and tissues. When there is not enough calcium in the blood, the parathyroid hormone will signal the bones to release calcium. Therefore it’s important to consume enough calcium so that it doesn’t have to keep being released from bones, as you don’t want to weaken your bones. For women especially, it is important to receive enough calcium from diet. In all humans after the age of 30, bone destruction usually exceeds bone products. Women can experience greater bone loss after menopause as the levels of hormones that play a role in building bones become permanently lower.
Calcium is needed for nerves to carry signals between brain and other body parts, it’s also needed for muscles to move. Calcium is required for muscle contraction, blood clotting, regulating heart rate, and cell fluid balance. Not having enough calcium can lead to painful muscle spasms, twitching of muscles, numbness or tingling in feet, hands, and mouth. It can also lead to anxiety, depression, itchy skin, and tiredness.