Milk may do a body good, but it’s the calcium that really should take all the credit. This essential mineral, often found in dairy products, is incredibly important for building and maintaining strong bones and teeth, and preventing the risk of developing osteoporosis. But there’s more to calcium than just its impact on the skeletal system.
The fact is, it plays a major role in numerous aspects of health and wellness—and yet still most people aren’t getting enough of it. Each day, we ending up losing built-up stores through the shedding of our skin, nails, and hair, and excretions of sweat and urine. And the problem is that the human body cannot produce new calcium on its own; it must be obtained through food.
Those that are lactose intolerant or follow a vegan diet could end up deficient from lack of dairy. But it’s still possible to get a good daily intake of calcium through other foods and various natural sources.
More about calcium
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, with about 99 percent of it stored in the bones and teeth. The small remaining part is dispersed throughout other internal systems, such as in blood and fluid between cells and muscles.
Throughout different life stages, people need varying amounts of calcium. Children and teens that are still growing, for example, will need to intake more calcium every day than young adults or middle age adults. Older women, too, need to increase calcium intake since they are especially susceptible to developing osteoporosis.
It’s also important to note that while calcium is essential, it’s most effective when combined with vitamin D and magnesium, since both of these minerals increase the body’s ability to absorb the amounts of calcium that are obtained through diet. When taking all three together, you can reap the most benefits.
Benefits of calcium
There are several reasons why getting enough calcium is imperative for overall health and well-being. Here are the top three:
Strong bones and teeth
This, of course, is the most obvious benefactor of calcium intake. Without enough of it, bones can become weaker and more brittle and be more susceptible to breaking or fracturing. Additionally, sufficient calcium stores can prevent the development of health problems like the bone disease osteoporosis—something that is an especially high risk for older women.
Healthy blood vessel function
Calcium is also known to help control vascular contraction and vasodilation, which improves blood pressure and can have an impact on lowering the risk of heart attack and ensuring the health of the entire circulatory system by sending messages throughout nerves and helping with muscle contraction.
Calcium is needed to help secrete various hormones and enzymes in the body as well. These hormones have an impact on every aspect of health from overall mood to energy levels. This also relates to its direct impact on weight regulation since hormones are associated with feelings of hunger and satiation.
The best natural sources of calcium
There are a number of different sources of calcium that you can add to your daily diet. Dairy (such as yogurt, cheese, and milk) is the obvious choice, but if you don’t eat milk products, there are still many options to choose from, like leafy greens and fish.
In recent decades, the marketplace has introduced a slew of fortified foods that have been enriched with calcium too, including cereal, juice, and bread.
Here are some of the best ways to add the mineral to your diet every day:
- Collard greens: Collard greens contain about 268 milligrams of calcium in every cooked cup. These leafy greens are also packed with vitamin A (three times the daily recommended value in every serving), which promotes better vision, too.
- Beans: Believe it or not, beans are also a great source of calcium. In particular, white beans can provide roughly 175 milligrams per serving while navy beans can provide about 127 milligrams. And since they fit into a wide range of cooking styles and diet plans, they’re an easy go-to source.
- Broccoli: Both the florets and stems of this vegetable contain a large amount of calcium, roughly 86 milligrams in two cups of raw, uncooked broccoli. The same serving size contains twice the vitamin C of an orange, which is a proven immune system booster and potent antioxidant that can fight disease and reduce the signs of aging.
- Tofu: This soy protein is packed with calcium and also low in calories. It contains roughly 77 percent of the daily recommended allowance of calcium, and is ideal for those following a vegetarian or vegan diet to still get a hearty dose of the mineral.
- Tahini: Tahini is a thick paste made out of sesame seeds that is often used in Mediterranean cooking and is an essential component of hummus. Which is good news since every serving size of this nutty paste contains 12 percent of the daily recommended allowance of calcium.
- Kale: These dark greens have become one of the most respected superfoods in recent years as more and more research keeps tapping into new things to love about it. Nutritionally speaking, kale provides a tremendous amount of nutritional content, delivering 101 milligrams of calcium in just one cup of raw greens, but also huge amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K. Simply put, it’s one of the best pieces of produce you can eat.
- Edamame: Edamame has been a staple in Asian diets for centuries, and it’s finally getting the attention it deserves in the rest of the world. Though it’s nothing more than immature soybeans that are still in the pod, these little morsels provide 98 milligrams of calcium as well as nine essential amino acids and eight grams of fiber in every serving.
- Salmon: Here’s a case for canned fish. Canned salmon is not only an inexpensive way to add this important protein source to your diet, but it also takes into consideration all the calcium stored in the bones of the fish. That’s because canned salmon breaks up the bones and softens them as part of the mix (they are completely unnoticeable when eaten). The result: Each can provides 46 percent of the daily recommended value of calcium.
- Figs: These seasonal fruits are a surprisingly great source of calcium. Just eight dried figs provide 10 percent of the daily recommended value of calcium, as well as a big dose of antioxidants and plenty of fiber.
- Black-eyed peas: Along with about 18 percent of the daily recommended value of calcium in a single serving, these beans also provide a good amount of potassium and folate to help control blood pressure and improve heart health.
- Seaweed: It’s not just a pretty part of sushi; seaweed is in general a great food source, whether in tasty snack chips or powdered spirulina that can be added to smoothies. Either way delivers a big boost in calcium as well as fiber and iodine. In fact, seaweed is such a powerful source of calcium that many supplements use it as the main ingredient.
When to consider supplements
It’s best to get calcium through natural means within the diet whenever possible. By taking steps to track what you eat and adjusting it to ensure that calcium levels are adequate, you can be a step ahead in reaching your health potential.
However, supplements are also worth considering if you feel as though you’re not able to get enough of the mineral in diet, whether because of allergies or preferences. But it’s important to remember that what’s in a supplement matters in a big way. Look for supplements that rely on natural sources of calcium instead of artificial chemicals.
Here are some of our favorites to consider:
Entirely vegetarian, gluten-free, and non-GMO, this all-natural supplement focuses in on raw algas calcareas, a type of algae abundantly filled with calcium. One serving delivers a whopping 80 percent of the daily recommended value of the mineral as well as the supporting combination of magnesium and vitamin D.
This option delivers a 2:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium, which promotes bone health and more calcium absorption. These capsules are entirely gluten-free and manufactured using only natural food sources.
Providing all three of the primary compounds needed for maximum health benefits, this supplement is vegetarian-friendly and gluten-free, and made using natural ingredients for improved quality and better results.
Photo credit: Alicia Cho