Do you worry about getting enough calcium in your diet? While worrying isn’t the best use of your time, your concerns aren’t entirely unfounded, especially if you eat little to no dairy. Dairy products are some of the richest sources of calcium, but it’s possible to meet your calcium needs without consuming dairy. If dairy isn’t your thing you can still get the calcium your body needs.
Vegans, those with dairy allergies or lactose intolerance can have a beautiful, strong, healthy skeleton too, but it does take a conscious effort and consistent work. No worries, once it’s a habit to eat calcium rich foods and all the nutrients need for proper calcium absorption, it doesn’t seem like work at all, but rather delicious food to look forward to.
What’s the Big Deal about Calcium?
The primary concern behind calcium consumption is getting enough calcium to support a strong, healthy skeleton and thus avoid fragile bones/osteoporosis. The International Osteoporosis Foundation states current estimates place the number of individuals with osteoporosis at over 200 million people worldwide! In the U.S. over 30% of postmenopausal women have osteoporosis and resulting in 40% of those women have had a fragility related fracture.
Regardless of your age, it’s important to get enough calcium. Your calcium consumption habits today will dictate your skeletal health the rest of your life and keep your heart pumping.
Calcium is the most prevalent mineral in the human body accounting for roughly 1-2% of our body weight. (We’ll wait while you do the math on that.) Our bodies use 99% our calcium to maintain the skeleton and teeth. For the sake of both brevity and simple math, we’ll work with the current RDA for calcium for men and women ages 19-50 years of age of 1000 mg calcium as being ‘enough.’ (To look at other RDAs click HERE.)
Don’t underestimate the importance of the remaining 1% of calcium in the human body. It’s uses major important functions such as the contraction and relaxation of muscles, this includes pumping the heart. If something affects your heart pumping, it has a role in your blood pressure and the overall health of your blood vessels. Additionally, that 1% also goes towards blood clotting, nerve function and proper hormone release.
A Bunch More is NOT Better
For a great many people the logic is that if a little bit is good and bunch must be awesome! It works for money, legit friends, happiness and planting trees, but beyond that this logic is actually what causes a lot of problems. It’s like bringing home a puppy. 1 puppy is good. 2 puppies may be more work than you bargained for. 16 puppies is a disaster for you, your carpet, your wallet and mostly the puppies.
Excessive calcium intake can displace the absorption of other minerals, et vice versa - it’s a long story about electrical charge and minerals as a whole not really getting along. Think lions and hyenas. Excessive calcium intake is typically not a problem for adult women though, but rather the opposite. Children are a whole other story, especially little littles. Toddlers all too often get iron deficiency anemia due excessive milk and thus calcium consumption.
Excessive calcium intake at any age, especially in the form of mega dosing with certain supplements, is also associated with constipation, depositing in places calcium doesn’t belong (awkward) and kidney stones. Definitely a case where more isn’t better, but rather aim for a healthy amount on a regular basis. We’ll talk a bit more about supplements in a minute.
The Low Down Calcium Deficiency
In addition to not getting enough calcium on a regular basis, there are several other things that can cause calcium deficiency. Vitamin D, vitamin K and magnesium are all needed to properly absorb and utilize calcium. Minerals need friends too! These 3 friends all deserve their own attention as deficiency can cause severe health problems.
For brevity’s sake:
1.) Get your vitamin D levels checked ASAP.
2.) Vitamin D is found in sunshine, supplements and a bit in fortified foods and mushrooms.
3.) Vitamin K made internally by healthy bacteria and found externally in green produce items.
4.) Magnesium is a BIG deal and can be found in seeds, nuts and beans.
Back to our lion and hyena analogy, too much of a competing substance will block your calcium abundance. High sodium intake (get honest with yo’self) and high phosphorus intake (soda and coffee are common culprits).
A few things that can negatively impact your calcium and are best to discuss with your healthcare profession instead of a stranger on the internet include kidney disease, problems with parathyroid function, bariatric surgery and certain medications.
Signs and Symptoms of Calcium Deficiency.
Here’s the both the coolest thing about calcium and the problem with finding a deficiency. Calcium is needed to pump your heart. Your body prioritizes that as MAJOR important and when you’re the calcium in your blood dips low from any of the aforementioned problems above, your body pulls into its calcium reserves to keep the level in the bloodstream within the zone that keeps the heart pumps. What an awesome feature! Unfortunately, this masks calcium deficiency with a blood test because your body is determined to keep that value in a range.
Thus tests for calcium deficiency involve looking at your bones laboratory style and/or honestly talking about what you eat. Getting legit magnesium levels is a similar process for the same reasons. Serum (blood) vitamin D levels say a lot about your calcium status because vitamin D is needed for the absorption and utilization of both calcium and magnesium.
Get real with yourself about how often you’re eating calcium rich foods (list below) and magnesium rich foods (seeds, nuts and beans). Pick up a vitamin D supplement, take it regularly and then talk to your healthcare provider to see if further testing is needed in your case. Healthcare provider, not the internet, a celebrity, your sister, your boss’s exe’s friend’s second cousin twice removed...
While it’s super awesome and a point of gratitude that our bodies have a calcium reserve to keep our heart pumping, there’s bad news. Bad news that reserve is your skeleton and if you’re not consistently replenishing your reserves you’re going to lose skeletal mass. Long term, this results in osteoporosis later in life.
Back to the good news, the skeleton is actually a living tissue that is constantly breaking down and building back up. Getting the 1000 mg of calcium we discussed or more days than not is going to help you establish and maintain a healthy skeleton. Establishing healthy calcium intake is important even if you’ve had a reduction in skeletal mass due to calcium deficiency. It prevents further loss and promotes overall health.
Digging into Calci-YUM!
You loved that nutrition pun and you know it!
While it is true dairy packs a mighty calcium punch, it’s also not a food that’s for everyone. All together now: good for you, not for me. There are 53 other sources of calcium ranging from tofu, to canned fish all the way to many herbs and spices. That said herbs tend to only provide 2 to 13 mg of calcium, which is a drop in the 1000 mg bucket. What that means is if a recipe calls for a spice, double the amount you put in. If a recipe doesn’t call for any spices add them. If a recipe doesn’t have any of these calcium rich foods in it, add them.
If you’re looking for non-dairy sources of calcium here you go! In descending order (most calcium first) 53 awesome sources of calcium:
Tofu, Canned Sardines, Canned Salmon, Collard Greens, Spinach, Turnip Greens, Soybeans, Mustard Greens, Beet Greens, Bok Choy, Cannellini Beans, Navy Beans, Swiss Chard, Kale, Garbanzo Beans, Pinto Beans, Clams, Almonds, Okra, Kidney Beans, Brussels Sprouts, Green Beans, Oranges, Dandelion Greens, Black Beans, Broccoli, Fennel Bulb, Parsley, Black-Eyed Peas, Watercrest, Celery, Basil, Asparagus, Romaine Lettuce, Dill Weed, Sesame Seeds, Cabbage, Cinnamon, Cumin, Zucchini, Summer Squash, Kelp, Oregano, Leeks, Dried Figs, Blackstrap Molasses, Cloves, Black Pepper, Garlic, Mustard Seeds, Thyme and Rosemary.
What to look for in a supplement.
If you look at the list above and see that the majority of the foods are not your jam due to preferences, sensitivities, allergies or price range, an honest look into a quality supplement may be in order. Additionally foods and beverages enriched with calcium are another good option. Make sure any milk replacement you choose has added calcium, but doesn’t have added sugar or carrageenan.
Supplement means in addition to NOT in place of. Any type of supplement is meant to work with a healthy diet and lifestyle. No calcium supplement on the market is going to override a calcium void diet high in sodium and phosphorus pair with a sedentary lifestyle.
Your body can only absorb so much at a time. When looking for a calcium supplement, look for one that doesn’t punch your stomach and later kidneys with an entire day’s worth of calcium at once. Ouch! Also look for a supplement that also contains calcium’s friends, magnesium and vitamin D (D3 specifically). Vitamin K will come from green produce items, but some supplements will add it. Make sure it’s vitamin K2.
Also look at their research. If the label or ad only reads, “doctor recommended” and doesn’t back that up with scientific research don’t buy it. Doctors also used to recommend cigarettes. How did that work out? Right. Now if a doctor recommends it based on scientific research, that has some clout. Look at how forthright is the company about the research and how accessible do they make it.
Take AlgaeCal calcium supplements are an example. Not only do they put their research online in an easily accessible manner, they link the research with the actually study - nothing to hide. They go beyond that to offer recipes because they know that they provide a supplement that works in addition to a healthy diet. When you look at what is in the product, it’s calcium and its friends magnesium, vitamin D3 and vitamin K2. All of that is the gold standard in the creation and sales of quality supplements.
It may sound like a lot of work to research your supplements, but keep a few things in mind. Dietary supplements are self-regulated at best. Meaning there is not an official agency that governs the quality and validity of supplements. The FDA will only get involved if the supplement is discovered to be dangerous or completely fallacious. That means someone has to take one for the team before the regulation. Furthermore, what you ingest will end up in your bloodstream. Anything that enters your bloodstream is worth your time to get to know.