Clients often ask whether their intake of calcium is adequate.
Their concern is justified since calcium losses are associated with osteoporosis in 1 in 3 women and 1 in 12 men. Other symptoms include muscle cramps, tremors or spasms, insomnia, nervousness, joint pain, arthritis, tooth decay and high blood pressure. So, why not just swallow calcium supplements? Most people don’t realise that healthy bones depend not only on intake but how well the body is digesting, absorbing and utilising the mineral.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and 99% of it is stored in our bones and teeth. The other 1% controls the conduction of nerve impulses, muscle contraction, aids blood clotting and helps to maintain the right acid/alkaline balance. Here are some tips to improve calcium absorption from these foods:
• Avoid the ‘S’ words: smoking, stimulants, sugar, salt and stress all leech calcium from the body. Instead, commit to a wholefood diet and avoid processed foods. Good dietary sources of calcium include dairy, canned sardines, nuts and seeds, pulses and dark green leafy vegetables. If you can, drop the stress and take up skipping. Research shows that just 50 rope jumps a day can increase bone density by up to 10%.
• Limit your intake of animal proteins such as red meat. Consumption of high animal protein is associated with increased calcium loss. Proteins are acid-forming and calcium is used to neutralise excess acidity – even if this means using the calcium reserves stored in our bones.
• Soft drinks, like cola, contain the preservative phosphoric acid. Too many fizzies increase phosphorus levels and deplete calcium. Remember that your body is designed to drink water!
• Ensure you have enough stomach acid to release minerals from your food. Gastric acid production tends to slow down as we get older and mineral absorption becomes increasingly difficult. Seek professional advice from a nutritionist to check digestive function.
• Vitamin D helps to increase the uptake of calcium from the gut and reduces calcium excretion in the kidneys. We can produce this vitamin ourselves by exposing our skin to the sun. People who stay indoors or wear clothing that covers most of their body need to obtain vitamin D from eggs, oily fish, dairy and fortified foods and/or supplements.
• Magnesium helps to utilise calcium efficiently which goes to show that minerals don’t work alone. They interact with other essential nutrients and often compete with them, too. Supplement requirements should therefore always be assessed on an individual basis.
To maintain optimal calcium status, try to avoid extremes and practice moderation. Heavy exercising, for example, may hinder calcium uptake, but moderate exercise promotes it. And although dairy products are an excellent source of calcium, they contain little magnesium and are high in protein. A varied, healthy diet is your best bet to prevent deficiencies and protect bones.
© 2011 Martina Watts MSc Nut Med, First Published Brighton Argus August 2002