Our moms always told us to drink milk so we get enough calcium in our body, but why? And do we REALLY have to drink milk to get it in our diet?! Don’t worry - we’re going to break it all down for you today - so you can be a calcium expert!
What is calcium and why is it important?
Calcium is an essential mineral in our body, that is a building block for your bones (99% of it in your body is found in your bones and teeth). Additionally, it’s less-glamorous but arguably even more important purpose is that it’s also used by your body for important functions such as helping your heart beat, neurotransmission, and helping your blood clot.
Calcium strengthens our bones until about the age of 20-25 when our bone density is highest. After that age, bone density gradually declines, but calcium is still important to help maintain bones and slow down bone density loss.
Calcium is vital for normal blood coagulation (clotting). Blood clotting is a complex process with multiple steps, but calcium plays a part in many of the steps.
Calcium regulates our muscle contraction, including vascular contraction (hello, heartbeat!). When a nerve stimulates a muscle, calcium is released to help the proteins in the muscle do the work of contraction. Only once the calcium is pumped back out of the muscle, does it relax again
So how do I get calcium in my body?
Your body doesn’t produce calcium, so it’s crucial to get it in your diet.
How much calcium should I consume each day?
According to the Institute of Medicine (IoM), most adults should consume 1,000 mg a day - and women over 50 and men over 70 should consume 1,300 a day.
So about that milk...
Like mom always said, dairy is a good way to get calcium in your diet - one cup of milk contains 305 mg of calcium (30% of DV), BUT not everyone's body tolerates dairy well. We personally try to limit our dairy intake. When we do consume dairy, we try to stick to high-quality grass-fed dairy!
If you don't drink milk or consume dairy, you CAN still get enough calcium in your diet through other whole food sources! (Sorry mom!)
Here are 10 (non-dairy) foods that are high in calcium, that you should consider incorporating into your diet.
Tofu - 1 serving has 400mg-800mg - depending on the type (40%-80% of DV) *but choose organic, high-quality tofu as 93% of soy is GMO!
Almonds - 1 cup has 385mg (almost 39% of DV)
Sardines - a 3.75oz can has 351mg (35% of DV)
Collard greens - 1 cup has 266mg (almost 27% of DV)
Figs - 8 figs (or 1 cup) has 241mg (24% of DV)
Canned salmon - 3oz has about 200mg (20% of DV)
Kale - 2 cups has about 180mg (18%)
Chia seeds - 1 tbsp has 179mg (almost 18% of DV)
White beans - 1 cup has 161mg (16% of DV)
Sunflower seeds - a cup of kernels has 109mg (almost 11% DV) *but choose raw, unsalted seeds because too much sodium can actually deplete calcium in your body!
Calcium supplements - do I need one?
If you feel that you can’t get the full recommended 1000mg of calcium each day by the foods you’re eating, a high-quality supplement can be good to incorporate into your diet.
There are many types of calcium supplements. Many of them are made from limestone and other rock, and some are plant-based. Our non-doctor opinion is that plant-based calcium supplements are superior, because they also contain other vital nutrients. One we really like is mykind Organics Organic Plant Calcium by Garden of Life - it’s made from REAL organic plants and has no yucky binders or fillers.
TWO IMPORTANT NOTES:
Calcium is not easily absorbed without the presence of vitamin D, so if you choose a supplement, make sure it also contains vitamin D.
Our bodies have difficulty absorbing more than 500 mg of calcium at a time, so you may want to take your calcium supplement half in the morning and half in the evening.
What are the benefits of having enough calcium in my diet?
It may help with fat loss
A study found that people given a supplement with 600 mg of calcium and 125 IUs of vitamin D lost more body fat on a calorie-restricted diet than those who did not have the supplement.
It may help lower the risk of colon cancer
One large study showed that calcium from food and supplements may lower the risk of colon cancer
It can improve metabolic markers
A study of 42 pregnant, diabetic women took calcium and vitamin D supplements, and found that several of their metabolic markers improved, including lowered blood pressure, lower insulin and triglyceride levels, and other markers of inflammation.
What if I don't get enough calcium?
Hypocalcemia is a fancy word for calcium deficiency, which means low levels of calcium are found in the plasma, or blood serum. Common causes of calcium deficiency are not enough calcium and/or Vitamin D from your diet, but stress and anxiety can also lead to this condition.
Mild cases of calcium deficiency can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, muscle stiffness or spasms, mood changes and even memory issues. More severe cases of hypocalcemia could ultimately lead to bone health related conditions such as osteoporosis, a decrease in bone density, especially in women.
Long story short: be sure to get enough calcium in your diet, through real, whole foods wherever possible - and high-quality supplements if needed. :) Please note - the recommended calcium supplement is one that we have personally purchased, used, and swear by! We may, however, earn fees from qualifying purchases as part of the Amazon Associates program.
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