One of the body’s most important nutrients is calcium. We all know calcium is important for maintaining strong bones and preventing osteoporosis – and for athletes, a big one is preventing stress fractures and bone breaks. But did you know this miracle mineral also plays a role in normal blood clotting, muscle functioning, conduction of nerve impulses, regulating fluid balance, regulating blood pressure (calcium has been linked to lower blood pressure), reduced colon cancer risk and reducing PMS. Calcium plays a big role in maintaining health and well-being. It makes sense that we need to make sure we’re getting enough from the food we eat.
Where is calcium found?
Of the body’s calcium, 99 per cent is stored in bone and teeth. The remaining one per cent is found in body fluids and soft tissues.
Because of its many vital functions, the level of calcium in the blood is tightly regulated by a delicate balance between the bones (our biggest calcium reservoir) and the blood. If there is not enough calcium in the blood and we’re not getting enough from the food we’re eating, the body draws calcium out of the bones. Over time, if there is a chronic shortage of calcium from our diet, the storage supply in our bones will gradually become depleted – a little bone loss each day can result in osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) later in life. This is why it’s important to get enough through the food we eat!
How much do I need?
Where do I get it?
|Dairy – milk, buttermilk, cheese, yoghurt|
|Fish – sardines and salmon|
|Calcium-Fortified Foods – breakfast cereals, fruit juice and bread|
|Green leafy vegetables – broccoli, okra, spinach, kale, bok choy|
|Tofu and Tempeh|
|Nuts and Seeds – almonds, Brazil nuts, sesame seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds|
Things that aid calcium absorption:
- Vitamin D is essential for the absorption of calcium. The main source of vitamin D is sunlight. The recommendation for sun exposure is around 15-20minutes of sun a couple of times per week (but avoid peak UV times so that you don’t get sunburnt). Vitamin D is also found in food such as cod-liver oil, oily fish, eggs and butter.
- Vitamin K – research shows that not getting enough vitamin K from the diet may lead to weaker bones and increased risk of stress fracture. Vitamin K has also been shown to keep calcium in your bones (it helps to reduce bone loss). Fermented soybeans (Natto) are the richest source of vitamin K. Vitamin K is also found in green leafy veg, broccoli, cauliflower, liver, meat, eggs and dairy foods (especially fermented foods such as yoghurt).
Things that hinder calcium absorption:
- Salt – a diet high in salt has been shown to speed up bone loss. It has been shown that for every 2000mg of sodium removed by the kidneys in the urine takes with it 60mg calcium. So, while salt is important, avoid too much!
- Caffeine – a large intake of caffeine (6+ caffeinated drinks per day) acts as a diuretic and flushes more calcium through the kidneys. Caffeine drinks include coffee, cola and tea.
- Fizzy drinks – research has shown that fizzy drinks are associated with softer bones and a higher risk of stress fracture.
- Excessive alcohol – drinking too much alcohol inhibits the stomach’s ability to absorb calcium adequately. It has been shown to interfere with the pancreas and its absorption of calcium and vitamin D.
Putting it into practice:
So, that’s all well and good but how do you put it into practice? Try the following:
- Make sure you fill up on plenty of green leafy vegetables
- Snack on almonds, Brazil nuts
- Include chia seeds and sesame seeds in your Bircher muesli
- Use almond butter as a spread on toast
- Have natural Greek yoghurt at breakfast or as a snack with added almonds for extra calcium and protein!
- If you eat animal products aim to have salmon twice a week
- Make sure the plant-based milk you use (e.g. almond milk) are fortified with calcium
- Get some sunlight
- Avoid excessive drinking, caffeine and salt
If in doubt:
Not sure if you’re doing it right and if you’re getting enough calcium in your diet? Contact me for an appointment today.
Catherine Saxelby’s Complete Food And Nutrition Companion, The Ultimate A-Z Guide, ©2018 Hardie Grant Books.