A miniscule amount of calcium is dissolved in the blood and plays an important role in the healthy functioning of the heart, muscles, blood and nerves. If you do not take in enough calcium, your body will pull calcium from the bones and pass it on to the blood stream. And if this goes on for quite sometime, your bones will become weak and you may develop osteoporosis.
Other disorders associated with calcium deficiency are-
High blood pressure
Insulin resistance and obesity (metabolic syndrome)
However, be careful with the amount of calcium you take in, since over dosing of calcium can increase the risk of prostate cancer and possibly ovarian cancer, according to Harvard School of Public Health.Daily Requirement of Calcium-
Our bones achieve their highest density (Peak Bone Mass) by the time we are in our early twenties. Rapid bone loss occurs at menopause, so, at this time, women require more calcium. In older adults, calcium is absorbed less effectively from the intestine and more can be lost through the kidneys, so calcium intake needs to be maintained at a higher level.
The recommended daily value for adequate calcium-
Adults and adolescents = 1000 mg
Teens, women over 50 and men over 70 = 1300 mg
Children below nine but more than one year old = 500 to 800 mg
You may be surprised by all the different foods that you can include in your diet to reach your daily recommended amount of calcium. Here are the top ones.Milk-
The food that tops the list of calcium-rich foods is milk, especially cow milk. And that is because a cup of fat free or low fat milk can give you 30 percent of the daily value of calcium requirement.
Although findings are contradictory on whether milk is absolutely necessary for good bones, it is undisputable that in addition to calcium, milk contains potassium, magnesium, vitamin D, and vitamin A. And, your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. So, milk is sort of a complete calcium food.
Soy foods are lactose free and a good substitute for milk or milk products if fortified with calcium.Source: International Osteoporosis Foundation
A healthy alternative to milk are milk products, especially yogurt. The culturing process makes yogurt more digestible than milk. Moreover, culturing of yogurt increases the absorption of calcium and B-vitamins. So much so, an 8-ounce (225g) serving of yogurt gets more calcium into your body than the same volume of milk can. Plain yogurt is not only rich in calcium but it contains around 10 to 14g of protein per 8 ounces (20 percent of the daily protein requirement for most individuals).Source: International Osteoporosis Foundation
Use yoghurt in soups, salads and desserts and increase the nutritive value and taste of the food.Cheese-
Cheese has low lactose content compared with other milk products and so it can be well tolerated by those who suffer with lactose intolerance. It promotes re-mineralization, that is, deposition of calcium and phosphorus in teeth, and also increases the strength of tooth enamel. Findings of a Danish study reveal that ‘dairy calcium, particularly from milk and fermented products, may protect against periodontitis (gum disease). So, go ahead and enjoy your cheese! Here’s a tip - hard cheeses such as parmesan have a higher concentration of calcium than softer varieties such as ricotta.Source: International Osteoporosis FoundationVegetables and Leafy Greens-
Milk and milk products are not the only source of calcium, lot of vegetables especially green leafy vegetables
are rich source of calcium. For example, three-fourth cup of collard greens has as much calcium as there is in one cup of cow’s milk.
Leafy green vegetables and broccoli are also great sources of vitamin K, another key nutrient for bone health.Source: International Osteoporosis Foundation and UCSF Medical Center
However, some vegetables such as spinach, beets and carrots are high in oxalic acid content. And oxalates inhibit the absorption of calcium and reduce their bioavailability. So, the best way to consume these foods is by boiling them and tossing away the water.Fruits, Nuts and Seeds-
If you dislike milk and milk products or are intolerant to them, you will require more serves of other high calcium-containing foods. For example, eat more almonds, dried figs and dried apricots. Just 2 dried figs can give you 65mg of calcium. Here’s the table on calcium content in fruits (fresh, dried and juice). Nuts and seeds are rich in magnesium that helps your body absorb and retain calcium. Almonds and cashews are especially high in magnesium.
Similarly, calcium content in the nuts and seeds are as follows:Source: UCSF Medical CenterSeafood-
Apart from calcium, seafood are a good source of iodine, vitamin K, B-vitamins, and magnesium and iron. Vitamin K and magnesium, both, help in absorption of calcium and increase its bioavailability.
The sea vegetable, kelp, can be used as a salt substitute or condiment in powder form. High in calcium and iodine, it acts as a natural tenderizer when added to beans and stews. Seaweeds such as kombu and wakame can be used in soups.
Since most of the calcium is found in the bones of the fish, eating fish along with the bones, as in canned fish, gives you the most calcium. Source: International Osteoporosis FoundationCereals and Bran-
Whole grains and bran are high fiber, low calorie foods that help lower your cholesterol and yes, help you lose weight, but they are not standouts in natural sources of calcium. That’s why cereal ready to eats are fortified with calcium and other minerals. An 8-ounce fortified cereal contains anywhere from 100mg to 1000mg of calcium.
Start your day with oats. Use milk instead of water, if you are not lactose intolerant, when making oatmeal or other hot breakfast cereals. This will give you the benefits of added calcium.
100g of KELLOGG’S ALL-BRAN Original contains 389 mg of calcium.
100g of Quaker Instant Oatmeal contains 866 mg of calcium.
100g of General Mills Total Corn Flakes contains 3333 mg of calcium.
A word of caution: phytates in fiber interfere with calcium absorption. So you may not be absorbing all the calcium mentioned in your cereal breakfast box. Soy and Soy Products-
Soy does not contain a significant amount of calcium. The calcium in natural soybean is bound to the pulp of the bean which is indigestible by human beings. However, calcium is added to many soy-based products such as tofu and soy milk and this calcium can be easily absorbed.
Robert Heaney, bone health expert from the Osteoporosis Research Center, Creighton University, Omaha, thinks otherwise. ‘Our findings show that calcium fortification of soy milk, at least by some producers, does not result in a calcium source comparable to cow milk in terms of either physical properties or absorbability,’ he said.
Heaney however ceded that ‘calcium-set tofu is a concentrated source of bioavailable calcium for individuals who may not ingest enough dairy products to meet minimum daily requirements’. ‘Calcium absorption from tofu was equivalent to that of milk,’ he said.
Minimize Foods that Deplete your Calcium Stores in the Body- Avoid the following foods:
Soft drinks- they contain phosphoric acid that is known to increase calcium excretion in the urine.
Caffeine- for every 100mg of caffeine you take in, 6mg of calcium is leached out from your bones.
Alcohol- alcohol inhibits calcium absorption and disrupts your body’s calcium balance.