What is calcium? And what does it do?
Calcium is an essential mineral that plays a vital role in maintaining healthy bones and teeth, supporting muscle function, and promoting nerve transmission.
It is crucial to ensure an adequate intake of calcium throughout our lives to prevent conditions such as osteoporosis and maintain overall health.
Bones store 99% of the body’s calcium, and blood, muscle, and other tissues store the remaining 1%. While dairy products are commonly associated with calcium, there are numerous other sources available for those who are lactose intolerant, vegan, or simply looking for alternative options.
In this blog post, we will explore various tips and tricks to help you maximize your calcium intake and ensure optimal health.
Calcium is essential for the muscles to move and for nerves to carry messages from the brain to different parts of the body.
Calcium also helps blood vessels circulate blood throughout the body and regulates hormones. Vitamin D is essential for the body to absorb calcium.
What are the effects of calcium deficiency on the body?
Low calcium levels in the blood can cause muscle aches, fatigue, and other symptoms. To support calcium levels, an individual can eat more calcium-rich food sources and take supplements.
Calcium deficiency is associated with
- Dental issues
- Modifications in the cerebrum
- Various skin conditions
- Chronic pain in the joints and muscles
According to estimates from 2015, 3.5 billion people around the world are at risk of not getting enough calcium from their diets.
After three years, specialists in Pakistan revealed that among 252 female members aged 18-51, 41% of them had calcium and vitamin D deficiency.
To determine your daily calcium requirements, you can refer to the recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) or dietary reference intakes (DRIs) provided by reputable health organizations such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB). These recommendations may vary depending on factors such as age, gender, and life stage. Here’s a general guideline for different age groups:
- Infants (0-6 months): 200-260 mg/day
- Infants (7-12 months): 260-1,000 mg/day
- Children (1-3 years): 700 mg/day
- Children (4-8 years): 1,000 mg/day
- Adolescents (9-18 years): 1,300 mg/day
- Adults (19-50 years): 1,000 mg/day
- Men (51-70 years): 1,000 mg/day
- Women (51-70 years): 1,200 mg/day
- Adults (71 years and older): 1,200 mg/day
- Pregnant and lactating women: 1,000-1,300 mg/day
Keep in mind that while meeting your calcium requirements is important, it’s equally crucial to ensure an appropriate balance with other nutrients, such as vitamin D and vitamin K, which work synergistically with calcium for optimal bone health.
Calcium absorption is enhanced by optimal vitamin D levels. Only 10% to 15% of dietary calcium is absorbed by the body without adequate vitamin D.
However, 30% to 40% of intestinal calcium is absorbed by the body when vitamin D levels are adequate.
- The supplement is basically a building block for your bones, and it helps maintain bone strength all throughout your lifetime.
- Calcium and vitamin D work together to safeguard your bones — calcium helps construct and keep up with bones, and vitamin D aids your body actually assimilating calcium.
Vitamin K plays an important role in calcium metabolism and bone health. It works synergistically to ensure proper bone formation and mineralization.
Vitamin K activates specific proteins, known as vitamin K-dependent proteins, which are responsible for directing calcium to the right places in the body.
These proteins help regulate deposition of calcium in bones and teeth while preventing excessive calcium buildup in soft tissues, such as blood vessels and the kidneys.
Vitamin K is involved in the synthesis of osteocalcin, a protein produced by bone-forming cells (osteoblasts). Osteocalcin helps bind calcium to the bone matrix, promoting proper bone mineralization. Without adequate vitamin K, osteocalcin cannot function optimally, potentially compromising bone strength and density.
Pairing calcium-rich foods strategically can enhance calcium absorption and utilization in the body. Here are some tips for maximizing the benefits of calcium-rich foods:
Combine calcium with vitamin D: Vitamin D aids in calcium absorption. Pairing calcium-rich foods with vitamin D sources can optimize the absorption and utilization of calcium. For example, enjoy a glass of fortified plant-based milk or dairy milk with a meal containing vitamin D-rich foods like fatty fish, egg yolks, or mushrooms exposed to sunlight.
Vitamin K and calcium: As mentioned earlier, vitamin K plays a role in calcium metabolism. Include vitamin K-rich foods like leafy greens (kale, spinach) and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts) in your meals along with calcium-rich foods. For example, enjoy a salad with leafy greens and add dairy or non-dairy sources of calcium.
Limit calcium inhibitors: Certain substances can interfere with calcium absorption. For instance, an excessive intake of caffeine or sodium may hinder calcium absorption. Try to moderate your consumption of caffeinated beverages like coffee and tea and be mindful of your sodium intake from processed foods.
Spread calcium intake throughout the day: Instead of consuming all your calcium in one sitting, distribute it throughout the day. In this way, the body can absorb and utilize the nutrients more effectively. Consider having a calcium-rich snack, like yogurt or a handful of almonds, between meals.
Adding more calcium to the diet is the safest and easiest way to prevent calcium deficiency.
Some calcium-rich foods include:
Milk, cheese, and yogurt are rich in calcium. Calcium requirements can be met more easily when dairy products are included in a healthy diet.
Broccoli and Brussels sprouts:
These cruciferous vegetables not only provide important vitamins and minerals but also contain decent amounts of calcium.
Beans and legumes:
Certain beans and legumes offer a good calcium boost. Examples include chickpeas, white beans, black-eyed peas, and lentils. They are not only rich in calcium but also provide fiber and protein.
Fortified plant-based milk:
As mentioned earlier, plant-based milk alternatives like almond milk, soy milk, and oat milk can be fortified with calcium.
Fortified orange juice:
Some brands of orange juice are fortified with calcium, making it a refreshing way to increase your calcium intake. Ensure that it is specifically labeled ‘fortified with calcium.
Tofu and tempeh:
These soy-based products can be excellent sources of calcium, especially when they are made with calcium sulfate or other calcium-fortifying agents. Check the packaging to find calcium-set tofu or tempeh options.
Nuts and seeds:
Nuts and seeds like almonds, chia seeds, and sesame seeds provide a moderate amount of calcium. They can be a great addition to your diet when combined with other calcium-rich foods.
Some varieties of seaweed, such as kelp and wakame, contain notable amounts of calcium. Incorporating seaweed into your meals, like in salads or soups, can contribute to your calcium intake.
Calcium supplements can be an option to consider if you are unable to meet your calcium requirements through diet alone or if you have a specific medical condition that requires additional calcium supplementation. Here are a few points to keep in mind when considering calcium supplements:
Here are Tips and Tricks for Optimizing Intake of Calcium
Before taking calcium supplements:
Consider dosage and timing: The recommended daily calcium intake for most adults is around 1000-1200 mg. However, it’s important to note that the body can only absorb a certain amount of calcium at a time. If you require higher doses of calcium, it’s best to divide the supplement into multiple doses throughout the day to enhance absorption. Your healthcare professional can guide you on the appropriate dosage and timing.
Look for added nutrients: Some calcium supplements may also include vitamin D, or vitamin K, which are essential for calcium absorption and utilization. Choosing a supplement that includes these nutrients can be beneficial for optimizing calcium absorption and overall bone health.
Be mindful of potential side effects: While calcium supplements can be beneficial, they may cause side effects such as constipation, bloating, or gas in some individuals. To minimize these effects, ensure you are adequately hydrated, and consider dividing the dosage into smaller amounts taken throughout the day. If you experience persistent side effects, consult a healthcare professional.
Balance with dietary intake: Calcium supplements should be viewed as a complement to a balanced diet, not a replacement for it. It’s important to continue consuming calcium-rich foods as part of your overall nutritional intake to ensure a variety of nutrients for optimal health.
Maximizing your calcium intake is essential for maintaining strong bones, supporting muscle function, and promoting overall health. Remember to pair calcium-rich foods strategically with other vitamins such as vitamin D and vitamin K to enhance absorption. By incorporating these tips and tricks into your lifestyle, you can take proactive steps towards improving your calcium intake and enjoying the benefits of optimal health.
Q: What are the main food sources of calcium?
A: Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese are traditional sources. However, there are also non-dairy sources like leafy greens (kale, spinach), broccoli, fortified plant-based milk, tofu, beans, and legumes, and certain types of fish (such as salmon and sardines).
Q: How much calcium do I need daily?
A: Calcium intake varies by age, gender, and life stage. Adults aged 19-50 should consume around 1000 mg per day. For adults over 50, it increases to 1200 mg per day. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding may have higher requirements.
Q: Is it necessary to take calcium supplements?
A: Calcium supplements may be necessary for individuals who have difficulty meeting their calcium needs through diet alone or those with specific medical conditions.
Q: Is it advisable to consult your doctor before taking calcium?
A: It is always recommended to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any supplementation regimen to determine if it’s necessary and to receive appropriate guidance on dosage and timing.