Dairy, fish, and green vegetables
Calcium is one of the most important minerals in the human body. An adult should consume between 1000 mg and 1300 mg of calcium per day. The rate is higher for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, over 50, and for teenagers. The body needs calcium to maintain healthy bones and teeth.
Milk and dairy products are the best-known sources of calcium. But non-dairy sources are just as valuable including sardines, salmon, nuts, molasses, amaranth, rhubarb, cabbage, spinach and leafy green vegetables.
Calcium is a mineral that the body needs for numerous functions, including building and maintaining bones and teeth, blood clotting, the transmission of nerve impulses, and the regulation of the heart’s rhythm. Ninety-nine percent of the calcium in the human body is stored in the bones and teeth. The remaining 1 percent is found in the blood and other tissues. Calcium also plays a critical role in the prevention of other health conditions including: colon cancer; PMS; cataracts; high blood pressure kidney stones; polycystic ovarian syndrome (If you are experiencing kidney pain, be sure to check with a doctor — it could be a sign of either of these past two conditions).
Calcium’s role in bone formation takes place in a process called “bone mineralization”. Bones act as a storehouse for calcium, which is used by the body and replaced by diet throughout a persons’ life. If not enough calcium is consumed the body takes it from what’s stored in the bones. Osteoporosis is caused when too much calcium has been depleted from the bones. The bones lose density and become highly susceptible to breaks and fractures. We see this most commonly in elderly people.
Who should eat them?
The most important time to eat a calcium rich diet is between the ages of 13 and 19, when the bones and teeth are still developing. Pregnant women and breast-feeding women should also be taking high doses of calcium. If the mother does not supply extra calcium to the fetus, the fetus will deplete her calcium resources, in her bones, and teeth, putting her at risk of osteoporosis. After the age of 50, a person’s calcium levels deplete rapidly. Recommended doses of calcium increase by about 50% at this time.
Examples of calcium rich foods
Dairy Products: Milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream are all excellent sources of calcium. Yogurt contains the highest amount, followed by low fat milk, then whole milk. The most calcium rich cheeses are hard cheeses like Parmesan.
Salmon/Herring/Sardines: Fish is the richest source of calcium. One small can of sardines easily meets at least half the recommended daily calcium dose. Salmon and herring are also excellent sources of calcium.
Beans and Tofu: Soybeans are the best source of vegetable protein, popular in Asia, where dairy consumption is very low. Two cups of cooked soybeans provides 300mg of calcium. One serving of tofu provides 373mg of calcium, more than a glass of milk.
Collard Green/Spinach/Mustard Greens/Kale: Leafy green vegetables are some of the nutritious foods.
Almonds/Flaxseeds/Sesame Seeds: Seeds are one of the best sources of calcium. One handful will contribute a significant proportion of the daily recommended dose; the exact amount depending on the seed/nut. Note that in oil form, these seeds and nuts have almost no calcium content.
Foods that deplete calcium
Certain foods deplete the body’s calcium resources because they pull alkaline minerals from the bones in order to neutralize the acidic effect these foods create. These are processed foods, foods high in sugar, soft drinks, too much caffeine. Other causes of calcium depletion are smoking, antacids, aspirin, chemotherapy, and some antibiotics.
A word of caution
While dairy products are what we tend to associate with a calcium rich diet, an increasingly large percentage of adults are lactose intolerant, especially people of Asian and African descent. Non-dairy sources of calcium are just as valuable. Fish and nuts and leafy greens will provide all the calcium a body needs.
It is important to be cautious regarding fish consumption. Many fish contain mercury, which is dangerous to consume in large amounts. This is a particular risk for pregnant women who should avoid eating shark, marlin, swordfish, and king mackerel.
Am I getting enough?
It’s best to stick with the daily recommended dose of calcium. However, there is some evidence to suggest that we may not need as much calcium as is generally recommended. A long-term study at Harvard University showed that calcium consumption had no affect on bone strength. Participants who drank only one glass of milk per day were at no more risk of breaking bones than participants who drank three cups a day. When researchers combined this data with other large prospective studies, they still found no association between calcium intake and fracture risk.
Additional evidence further supports the idea that we may not need as much calcium as is currently recommended. In countries like India, Japan, and Peru, where average daily calcium intake is as low as 300 mgs per day, the incidence of bone fractures is no higher.
Calcium rich foods should be a part of everyone’s diet, no matter what your age or gender. While it is best to consume large amounts of calcium in your teenage years, while your bones are still developing, you can make up for lost time by eating a consistently calcium rich diet in later years, especially after the age of 50. Osteoporosis is a painful (not painful though complications from it can be such as vertebral compression fractures) and common condition, but largely avoidable by eating calcium rich foods, and doing regular daily exercise.