Sunday, May 22, 2011

Calcium: More Than Just a Glass of Milk

This article is also available on Nutrition in Motion's blog NIM Dish
 
Calcium: More Than Just a Glass of Milk
Sarah Reid, RHNC

The body relies on many different nutrients for it’s optimal health and performance. While some nutrients are able to be made from other (excess) compounds, often the deficiencies are with those elements that are essential – meaning that without a part in the diet, the body goes without. One of the most common problems with nutrient levels in modern diets is the lack of adequate calcium, second only to sodium excesses. Ironically, both these problems are the end result of a diet too high in processed food, and the health problems occurring because of these nutrient imbalances are compounded by the level of inactivity in today’s world.

Because there is such concentrated stores of this mineral in bones and teeth (99% of what’s in the body), if you do not get enough of the mineral from your daily food, your body breaks down the bonds in these locations to release calcium into the blood, where it is a vital “buffer” against acidosis. On average, a healthy adult needs 1000 – 1500 mg of calcium daily to maintain the balance. Bone building, on the other hand, actually only occurs until the mid-30s. “Adult” bone structures are formed during the “growth spurts” of puberty, and the tissues continue to store calcium after we have stopped growing up until roughly 35 years of age. Therefore, the resilience of your bones for the rest of your life is determined by the choices you make as a young adult, even if there are no immediate effects from a deficiency. What a continued adequate intake does throughout the lifespan is prevent the blood from leaching bone calcium, which is the cause of osteoporosis. Good calcium intakes have also been shown to reduce high blood pressure and the risk of colon cancer.

The obvious “cure” to the poor calcium levels occurring in up to 70% of Westernized diets would be to pop a supplement pill. But simply getting enough in terms of “numbers” doesn’t always mean 100% absorption. At its peak absorption capacity (around 8 years old), the bloodstream only retains about 60% of total calcium it takes in. As you age and your stomach acids decrease, your ability to “lock in” the mineral can drop as low as 10%. Your body becomes overwhelmed when given concentrated doses of the mineral over 500mg at a time, which in effect leads to less being absorbed overall. Diets high in salt, caffeine, refined sugar, alcohol and/or protein inhibit the blood’s retention of calcium, and can in fact cause a faster depletion. Multi-mineral supplements are another stumbling block – zinc, iron and magnesium all interfere with calcium as well as each other. Studies have also shown that calcium supplements taken in high doses (above 500mg) over 5 years heightens the risk of developing CVD or stroke more than reducing the risk of fractures. Excess calcium from supplements has also been linked to the development of cystic breasts, kidneys, prostate and ovaries. These risks were not correlated to diets rich in calcium due to two factors: 1) no natural food delivers a concentrated dose of that amount per reasonable serving and 2) whole foods provide buffering minerals and compounds that “meter” calcium absorption in the gut.

When it comes to your diet, boosting your calcium doesn’t have to be only drinking your milk. Notwithstanding the fact that almost 50 million adults in the USA are lactose intolerant (and casein is a common “hidden” allergy), the Western diet is chronically high in the phosphorus, caffeine, sugar and protein that competes with the mineral. The ideal diet contains a 1:4 ratio of phosphorus : calcium, but meat products and pop are extremely phosphoric, which drains calcium ions from the body through urine. Depending on the type and quantity of dairy, even the protein in dairy products can inhibit overall calcium absorption. Calcium in foods like whole grains and dark green vegetables like kale is also blocked, this time by the oxalic and phytic organic acids. The best way to assure the highest retention of calcium from your diet is to incorporate a wide variety of whole foods, cooking whole grains and vegetables like spinach, greens, chard and kale. Going “meatless” one day a week by incorporating tofu, beans and small amounts of low-fat dairy has benefits too – not just for the sake of controlling cholesterol intake but also lowering the body’s phosphorus stores. Using plenty of fresh herbs is one more natural supplement – basil, dill and thyme are all incredibly high in calcium per serving, and because they lack the antagonistic acids the mineral finds its way into the body more readily.

Clearly, the “natural” route of getting your calcium is the most effective (and tastiest) method. However, if you are a person who does not regularly consume dairy or fortified products, you can’t kick your caffeine habit or sweet tooth, are over 50 or already have marked bone degeneration, the best option in the supplement aisle is calcium citrate in an amount no more than 500 mg per day, ideally split into two 250 mg pills taken away from food.

Here’s an awesome calcium-rich recipe packed with fruit to try out at home! It’s vegan and gluten free, and really kid friendly (especially if you add a little maple syrup!) and provides 31% of the RDA in one serving!

Smooth Move
Makes 2 “adult” portions or 4 “kid” portions
1 cup of frozen, unsweetened blueberries
1 large, ripe mango, chopped
1 cup strawberries
2 tbsp rice bran
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 ¼ cups low-fat, plain soy milk (I use Silk Plain Light)
10 oz low-fat, silken tofu (Mori-Nu or similar)

Combine all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth and pourable.
Serve immediately, or pour into popsicle moulds and freeze for snacks.

Amount Per (Adult) Serving
Calories: 279.5
Total Fat: 6.9 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 202.3 mg
Total Carbs: 45.0 g
Dietary Fiber: 9.1 g
Protein: 16.1 g
Calcium: 31%
Vitamin D: 19%

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I started my "working life" as a holistic and allopathic nutritional consultant with a love of cooking. Teaching the value of wholesome meal choices to families became close to my heart after I battled a long history of struggles with weight and health, and the passion for teaching led me into where I am now. My blog, which focuses on "bringing good taste to healthier food" through creative use of whole grains, fresh produce and acknowledging the importance of the occasional treat, also features a wealth of "specialty diet" friendly recipes for gluten-, egg-, dairy- and sugar- tree nut-free items that everyone can enjoy without alienating those who need them.

Overall, I want to bring back the desire for good quality, homemade, (mostly) healthy food into the hearts and kitchens of families so that the next generation will be less box-reliant than mine. I firmly believe that any “homemade” food, even when labelled as "naughty", is a more wholesome treat than pre-packaged, cookie-cutter junk. With the knowledge of good food (and how to cook good food) as a base, a healthy lifestyle can follow, and then anything is possible!

Today, my love for teaching is branching out even further - I'm in Montessori training to solidify my love for the system and working with children and families!