In this blog, I would like to talk about calcium, its importance, and symptoms that may relate to its deficiency (called hypocalcemia).
I’m also going to share some calcium-rich recipes for you make at home to ensure you’re getting enough of this essential nutrient. As with anything, it’s important to remember that the most import thing is to keep your intake balanced. Now here we go, Calcium!
It’s a widely known fact that dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt are a great source of calcium. However, fewer people are aware that there are also many non-dairy sources high in everyone’s favorite mineral. In fact, common foods such as leafy greens, legumes, dried fruit, seafood tofu, and countless others are secret heroes when it comes to reaching your recommended daily intake. But before we dive into those, let’s cover the basics.
Why is calcium is necessary for our body?
It’s no secret that calcium is vital for strong bones and teeth, but its role in our bodies goes far beyond that. It can also help in the maintenance of healthy blood vessels, regulate blood pressure, and even prevent insulin resistance. Thus, it goes past healthy skeletal system – the heart, nerves, and blood-clotting systems also need calcium to function well.
Calcium as a preventative supplement
There are also a lot of specific conditions that a healthy intake of calcium has been linked to reductions in. Calcium is taken to prevent falls and to prevent high levels of the parathyroid hormone (hyperparathyroidism). Also, calcium is supplemented to ward off premenstrual syndrome (PMS), leg cramps, depression during pregnancy, and high blood pressure during pregnancy (pre-eclampsia).
Similarly, calcium is taken to reduce the risk of cancer, stroke, and cardiovascular disease, to increase chances of survival following a heart attack, to help retain teeth in the elderly, and to help with weight loss. Of course, concerns about these conditions and their prevention should be brought up with a medical professional, but make sure you’re reaching your recommended intake of calcium is an excellent step to take towards a sustainable, healthy lifestyle.
Can calcium ever help with existing conditions?
Sometimes calcium is even taken to prevent diarrhea and seizures due to sudden decreases in its normal levels. Also, it’s taken to prevent complications after intestinal bypass surgery, high cholesterol, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, Lyme disease, to reduce high fluoride levels in children, and to reduce high lead levels. Moreover, it’s sometimes used for high potassium levels in the blood, and for muscle cramps following spider bites.
Finally, some research suggests that taking calcium daily, beginning 11-21 weeks into a pregnancy, reduces depression at 12 but not 6 weeks after delivery. This indicates that it may also help with depression after pregnancy (postpartum depression). Tired of the fact dump yet? The list of functionings really goes on and on! Even though calcium’s reputation links it primarily to bones and teeth, it’s really an absolutely essential nutrient that works in important roles in the body literally from head to toe!
How to get enough calcium?
Oddly enough, you won’t hear much about healthy adult calcium intake being discussed in popular health advice websites. Poor calcium! This unfortunate phenomenon is leading to a deficiency problem. Adults should consume about 1,000 mg of calcium per day (about one glass of skim milk, one thick slice of cheddar cheese, and one cup of plain yogurt), but many people fail to meet the mark. According to one survey, only 16% of women aged 20 to 29 get enough calcium. Also, it’s important to realize that pairing sources of calcium with vitamin D helps to actually absorb any calcium you’re consuming.
What is the danger of calcium deficiency?
The National Institute of Health warns that if your body doesn’t get enough calcium and vitamin D to support important functions, it takes calcium from your bones. Losing bone mass makes weakens the insides of your bones, making them porous. This, in turn, puts you at risk for bone disease osteoporosis.
Since women are at a higher risk of osteoporosis, many doctors suggest they take calcium supplements, especially after reaching menopause.
How to eat more calcium
The options aren’t just dairy or supplements! Here are some tasty options:
– Learn to love leafy green vegetables.
– Eat more fish.
– Replace the meat in some meals with tofu or tempeh.
– Snack on calcium-rich nuts like Brazil nuts or almonds.
– Reduce your intake of caffeine, soft drinks, and alcohol.
What foods are highest in calcium?
Naturally occurring calcium
White Beans 191 mg (19% DV) in 1 cup canned. Creamy and light, these legumes are a great source of calcium and iron. Add them to a pasta dish with veggies or skip the chickpeas and make your own hummus with white beans.
Canned Salmon 232mg (23% DV) in ½ can with bones (which provides the calcium!)
Canned salmon is a great way to go. It’s the bones in canned salmon that hold all the calcium, so they need to be mashed up right along with the salmon meat for all the benefits. The canning process softens the bones so they easily break apart and are unnoticeable.
Sardines 321 mg (32% DV) in about 7 sardines fillets
Sardines – one of the healthiest fish to munch on! Along with calcium, they also provide a hefty dose of omega 3s and vitamin D. Try adding them to a Greek salad or eat them straight out of the can.
Dried Figs 107 mg (10% DV) in 8 whole dried figs
For a sweet treat, this dried fruit packs an antioxidant, fiber, and calcium punch. Eat them as a midday snack or turn these delicious fruits into a creamy jam.
Bok Choy 74 mg (7% DV) in 1 cup
This versatile Chinese cabbage provides a hefty dose of vitamins A and C, along with calcium and fiber. Stir-fry bok choy with garlic and olive oil for a perfect side dish.
Blackstrap Molasses 172 mg (17% DV) in 1 tablespoon.
When your sweet tooth strikes, it’s best to go natural. Blackstrap molasses is darker in color and richer in flavor than regular molasses, and is filled with calcium, iron, and other vitamins. Plus, it makes a great sweet and flavorful addition to many dishes.
Kale 188 mg (19% DV) in 2 cups raw (chopped)
This superfood is filled with calcium and antioxidants and is perfect to use as the base of any salad when shredded into thin strips.
Black-Eyed Peas 185 mg (18% DV) in 1/2 cup canned
These beans are filled with calcium, potassium, folate, and more! This black-eyed pea spread will pump up any sandwich or appetizer plate.
Almonds 72 mg (7% DV) in ¼ cup dry roasted (about 20 nuts)
These are the most nutritionally dense nut, packing loads of nutrients per calorie and ounce. Aside from calcium, they also contain potassium, vitamin E, and iron. Sprinkle on a salad, make your own almond butter, or whip up one of these nine almond butter snacks for a healthy pick-me-up. Just watch out for portion size – 1 handful per day is your maximum amount.
Oranges 65 mg (6% DV) in 1 medium fruit
Full of vitamin C and calcium, enjoy this fruit as a mid-morning snack, or use its citrus flavor to brighten up any dish, like with these honey orange carrots.
Turnip Greens 197 mg (20% DV) in 1 cup cooked (chopped)
This leafy green comes from turnip bulbs and is filled with calcium, antioxidants, and folate, which could help improve mood. Sauté them as a side dish or spice things up and make a turnip tart.
Sesame Seeds 88 mg (9% DV) in 1 tablespoon
These unassuming seeds are more than just a hamburger bun decoration. Sesame seeds can help lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and may even fight against certain cancers. Use their nutty crunch in a salad or add to this sautéed spinach dish.
Seaweed 126 mg (13% DV) in about 1 cup raw
Fish aren’t the only, well, fish in the sea. Seaweed is full of calcium, fiber, and iodine, which helps with proper thyroid function. Kick a bowl of risotto up a notch with this seaweed recipe. Feel like keeping it classic? Try your hand at a classic miso soup.
Fortified With Calcium
Fortifying foods with calcium has become a popular way to help people consume a balanced diet, but eating foods with naturally occurring nutrients is the better route to take. So just make sure you’re not only reaching for the fortified kinds!
Instant Oatmeal 187 mg (19% DV) in 1 cup
Many cereals and grains are now fortified, including our favorite morning breakfast. And while the instant kind doesn’t boast the same benefits as old-fashioned rolled oats, they’re a quick breakfast option that’s full of fiber and calcium. Make sure to choose brands without added sugar.
Orange Juice 500 mg (50% DV) in 1 cup
In moderation, fruit juice is a perfect pairing for morning pancakes or eggs! Enjoy a tall glass for calcium and vitamin C, or pour over a salmon fillet.
Soy Milk 300 mg (30% DV) in 1 cup
Soy milk is a great option for people who are lactose intolerant, and it contains more protein than regular milk.
Firm Tofu 861 mg (86% DV) in ½ cup
Tofu is made of dried soybeans that have been grounded up and boiled. It’s a great way to add lots of protein, little fat, and (of course) calcium to any meal.
Is there such thing as too much calcium?
No need to buy out the entire dairy section on your next grocery shop or start grinding bones for your bread – it’s true that on the other hand, getting too much calcium can cause constipation. It might also interfere with the body’s ability to absorb iron and zinc, but this effect is not well established. Finally, in adults, too much calcium taken from dietary supplements might increase the risk of kidney stones, but the calcium in food has not been shown to have the same effect.
Severe symptoms of hypercalcemia (too much calcium) include:
- confusion or memory loss
- muscle spasms
- numbness and tingling in the hands, feet, and face
- muscle cramps
- weak and brittle nails
- easy fracturing of the bones.
The bottom line is to remember that a balanced diet is very important. Calcium can be as beneficial for you as it can be harmful.
Before you start supplementing yourself do a blood test for vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, NHS blood tests are very limited so I recommend you use a private laboratory. A nutritional therapist can refer you to a laboratory that will be able to run all the necessary tests.
Remember that sometimes hypocalcemia is caused by low levels of vitamin D, which is instrumental in absorbing calcium into your bloodstream where it can be useful. It’s possible to be consuming enough calcium but still suffer from calcium deficiency because the core problem is an inadequate supply of vitamin D. The human body is like a matrix, one imbalance triggers others… stay balanced!
Trainer Specialist BSc(Hons) and soon-to-be certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP – a 4-year program,) DipION, mBANT, CNHC, using a holistic approach to nutritional therapy and exercise therapy.