Osteoporosis and Chinese Diet

by Jacqueline

I heard the Chinese diet is low in dairy products. Do they get a bigger incidence of osteoporosis?

Matthew's reply: Hi Jacqueline, I've lived in China for the past 11 years and it definitely seems like Chinese people eat far less dairy products than people in say Western countries.

I'm not so sure commercialized dairy products are the best source of dietary calcium anyway.

Chinese people tend to consume other dietary sources of calcium in greater quantities I would think than the average Westerner, like beancurd and sesame paste. Perhaps these and other Chinese-type foods provide enough calcium??

Interestingly, I have read that people who consume a lot of animal protein (meat, dairy products) are more likely to need more calcium because animal protein actually leaches calcium from the bones.

Whether good or bad, nowadays in China there are modern, Western-style supermarkets and convenience stores all over the place and they stock a huge range of Western-style dairy products - milk, cheese, icecream, yogurt, etc.

These products seem to be popular with young people here, although I know many Chinese who dislike cheese. Yogurt and milk are far more popular. It is common to see parents buying milk for their kids, perhaps influenced by Western culture??

The issue with dairy products, from the Chinese medicine viewpoint, is that because these foods are very moistening they can overload your digestive system and cause phlegm to be produced. Excess phlegm can manifest in the body as sinus congestion, a phlegm-type cough, digestive upsets and more. If you eat a lot of dairy products, especially nutritionally-dead ones like icecream and sugary, supermarket-style yoghurt, you should cut back.

Finally, on dairy foods and osteoporosis, people have been conditioned to believe that dairy foods are the best source of calcium, and lack of dairy can lead to osteoporosis, but there are plenty of other sources like green vegetables, sardines and tofu. This is not to say you should not eat dairy products but as mentioned they can overload your digestive system, generating phlegm and what is known in Chinese medicine as dampness.

If you must eat things like yoghurt eat proper, live yoghurt not the supermarket stuff full of sugar and artificial coloring and flavoring. Cheese and milk, while nutritious, are very moistening, lubricating (damp) foods so don’t go overboard and eat too much. If you do have sinus congestion, a phlegm-type cough or nasal drip or digestive stuff like rumbling sounds or bloating and you eat a lot of dairy, then cut back and see if these things improve. If you are overweight and you eat a lot of dairy foods then absolutely cut back.

Any questions or comments about osteoporosis, the Chinese diet and dairy products just post below.

All the best,


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Milk, Lactose Intolerance.

by Cathy
(United States)

I know that in the Chinese people lactose intolerance is very common. What do they use to supplement this and are there any other things that they lack in their diet?

Matthew's reply: Hi Cathy, these days in China there are plenty of Western-style supermarkets with well stocked dairy sections. It is not difficult to buy lactose-free dairy products, low-fat dairy products, etc. As for supplements, I'd say the average Chinese person does not take dietary supplements (such as a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement) as is common in Western countries.

Regarding other things lacking, I'm not aware of anything else that is specific to Chinese people. One thing I do know is that (in my experience) the average Chinese person eats far more fruit and vegetables than the average Western person.

Also obesity is not a major problem like it is in many Western countries. This is changing though as urban Chinese adopt a more modern Western lifestyle of driving cars, getting less exercise in their daily life, eating more junk food, etc.

If you have questions or comments about this topic post them below.

All the best,


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