Of the calcium, 99% is stored in the bones with the balance being stored in the body fluids. In the bones, it not only acts to maintain a strong skeletal structure but also serves as attachment points for the tendons of the muscles. The calcium in the body fluids circulates as iodized calcium which helps to regulate muscle contraction, blood clotting, transmission of nerve impulses, the secretion of hormones and the activation of some enzyme reactions.
Calcium by itself cannot be absorbed by the body. It needs other nutrients to enable that to happen. Those nutrients include magnesium, phosphorus, vitamins A, C and D. An example of this is magnesium. Magnesium stimulates the production of a hormone called calcitonin. This hormone is what keeps the calcium in the bones and out of the soft tissue. It is believed that many forms of arthritis are due to an increase of calcium in the body fluids and a lack of calcium in the bones[i]. Another example is the need for Vitamin D. Typically we absorb about 25% of the calcium we ingest. Vitamin D helps to make the calcium-binding protein which is needed in order for us to absorb that 25%. So as you can see, it is a bit more complex than we think.
To take this a step further, the 1% of calcium in the body fluids always remains the same. If we are not consuming enough calcium through our diet, the body will actually take the calcium out of the bones to maintain that appropriate level in the fluids. This process is silent, meaning we might actually not know this is happening. Unfortunately as we age however, this can show up as osteoporosis.
With all of this said, it is important to make sure we are getting an adequate amount of calcium and its carriers in our diet. The average adult should consume between 1,000 – 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily[ii]. This may sound like a lot but it really isn’t! Let us take a look at what foods actually contain high amounts of calcium.
Of course the dairy industry wants you to believe that their source of calcium is the best. Although cheese and milk do contain a high amount of calcium, often people are intolerant to dairy. This can be due to being lactose intolerant, a deficiency in the enzyme that breaks down the lactose in the milk, or because high dairy diets can cause heavy congestion in some people.
Personally I do ingest dairy but try to focus on the use of goat or sheep products rather than cow. Goat and sheep tend to graze rather than be grain fed. Grazing increases the nutrient value of the milk as the animals are ingesting more nutrients from the plants. In addition, the fat molecules of the milk from these types of animals are smaller, thus easier to digest. They are also lower in fat.
In addition to dairy there are some fantastic sources of calcium. Below is a list of some of the best:
- Dried seaweeds such as wakame, kombu, kelp, hijiki, and arame
- Beans such as soy, garbanzo, mung, aduki, black and lima
- Nuts and seeds such as almonds, sesame, cashew, and filbert
- Whole grains such as buckwheat, millet, amaranth, and rye
Of course my favorite source is GREEN VEGETABLES! Leafy green vegetables not only contain a good amount of calcium but they also contain lots of chlorophyll. In the center of the chlorophyll molecule is found magnesium. In addition, chlorophyll is a great source of phosphorus, vitamins A and C. How can there be a better way of getting your calcium and all its carriers than eating green vegetables?
Having said all that, let us look at some of the best sources of vegetables for calcium:
- Mustard greens
- Turnip greens
- Bok Choy
We tend to think of spinach and chard as great sources of calcium as well but surprisingly they are not. Although they contain a lot of calcium, they also contain oxalic acid. This substance binds chemically with the calcium thus preventing it from being absorbed. Now this is not to say that these vegetables are not chocked full of other nutrients, they are! Just don’t use them as a source of calcium.
So start playing around with ways in which you can increase the amount of calcium in your diet. Chances are you might be able to take in much more than you think. This month’s recipe offers you a tasty salad that is high in calcium. Check it out!
[i] Paul Pitchford, Healing With Whole Foods
[ii] Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition, Seventh Edition