Calcium rich foods are key to maintaining our overall health. We need calcium to do many things including strengthen our bones and move our bodies. Calcium is especially important in childhood when our bones and teeth are forming, but it becomes increasingly important as we age. Here is a look at what calcium is, why having the right amount in your diet is so important, and how you can get more.
What Is Calcium?
Calcium is the most abundant mineral found in the human body. We usually associate it with bone health but it helps our blood, nerves, and muscles function normally too. Most adults need about 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily, but as we age our bodies require more.
Calcium works closely with vitamin D, which we get from the sun, and foods like salmon and mackerel. Vitamin D is also found in many fortified cereals and yogurts. Without vitamin D, calcium could not be absorbed by our bodies no matter how much we consumed.
Signs of Low Calcium
Calcium deficiency can be a dangerous condition and it has a variety of causes. Most people experience calcium deficiency when they do not consume enough dietary calcium over time. Low vitamin D intake is another popular cause too. Certain medications may decrease the amount of calcium the body absorbs but hormonal changes and genetic factors should be considered also.
Symptoms of calcium deficiency impact the entire body. Muscular symptoms may include numbness and tingling, or twitching and spasms called tetany. The nervous system can also be affected and we could experience blurred or lost vision, changes in personality, or seizures. Calcium plays a key role in our cardiovascular health too, and low calcium levels may result in abnormal heart rhythms or heart failure.
Calcium deficiency also produces a variety of less serious side effects including: dry skin, brittle nails, poor dental health and weakened bones. Consuming a diet high in calcium rich foods can help avoid the consequences of low calcium intake.
Signs of Excess Calcium
While calcium deficiency is a popular problem in our society today, it is possible to have too much calcium in our bodies too. Excess calcium is usually caused by a condition called hyperparathyroidism. This occurs when we can no longer naturally regulate the amount of calcium in our body due to hormonal changes.
Side effects of an excess of calcium include nausea and constipation, kidney stones, confusion or depression, and aches and pains in the bones. Excess calcium also impacts our hearts in the same way calcium deficiency does by causing abnormal heart rhythms.
Benefits of Calcium
Because calcium is the most abundant mineral in our body, its benefits can help us from head to toe. Calcium helps us strengthen bones and teeth, keeps our heart functioning normally, and helps our muscles contract. If we can consume a diet high in calcium rich foods, we have a better chance of maintaining strong, healthy bodies well into old age.
Calcium has also been shown to improve the outcomes of a many other conditions. For example, studies have shown that women who consume at least 1,200 milligrams of calcium per day had less severe premenstrual symptoms. There have also been positive reports linking increased calcium intake with better blood pressure and increased weight loss.
One of the most important roles calcium plays in health, is the prevention of Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a disease which affects roughly 54 million Americans by causing bones to become weak and porous. This usually happens as we age, and it affects women more often than men. As the bones lose density, they become more susceptible to fractures, which can cause serious physical and mental health consequences in the elderly.
Although there are many calcium supplements on the market, eating foods high in calcium is the best way to enjoy the health benefits it provides. Many foods high in calcium are some of our favorite dietary staples. Here is what to look for when you need calcium rich foods.
Milk is one of the most popular sources of calcium available today. One cup of milk will provide you with 300 milligrams of calcium. Calcium in milk is still present in chocolate and strawberry varieties but it usually is filled with lots of unnecessary added sugar. Drinking fat free or low-fat milk products will be best for your waistline.
All foods made from milk like cheese, yogurt, and ice cream, are good sources of calcium too. One ounce of mozzarella cheese provides about 200 milligrams, while yogurt can easily give you up to 450 milligrams.
Nondairy milks also serve as good sources of calcium. Fortified soy milk for example, will still give you 200-400 milligrams of calcium depending on the brand.
Spinach and other dark leafy greens like chard and arugula, are good sources of calcium. One cup of cooked spinach provides about 240 milligrams of the stuff, while chard will give you another 100. Making a large salad with a green leaf base, and topping it with other calcium rich veggies like broccoli, will make for a nutritious lunch.
Most sources of calcium are found in fortified foods. Fortified foods are foods that have minerals added to them to improve their nutrition, which is important for avoiding nutritional deficiencies. Fortified calcium rich foods include: cereals, grains, non-dairy milk products, and fruit juices.
Orange juice is one of the most common calcium fortified foods. Some of these foods can have up to 1,000 milligrams of calcium added to them, so make sure you are eating them in amounts considered safe.
Edamame is a popular healthy snack. It is packed with many important vitamins and minerals, and just one cup will add 98 milligrams of calcium to your diet for the day. Top your edamame with fresh lemon juice and a pinch of sea salt for a quick mid-afternoon pick me up.
Most people think of vitamin C when it comes to oranges, but it turns out they are good sources of calcium too. One large orange will give you 74 milligrams of calcium, and their low calorie and antioxidant rich properties serve as a great start to your day. Create a powerhouse breakfast by creating an orange and leafy green smoothie first thing in the morning, and get a head start on your calcium needs.
Nuts and Seeds
There is no shortage to the health benefits nuts and seeds give us, and that stays true when it comes to calcium. One ounce of whole roasted sesame seeds provides a whopping 280 milligrams of calcium, while almonds add 80 milligrams more. Top your salads with nuts and seeds for an easy and healthy addition to your meals.
Some types of fish can be good sources of calcium. A three-ounce portion of sardines for example, is packed with roughly 370 milligrams. The same portion of canned fish options like tuna and mackerel will stand at about 200 milligrams. Other types of seafood like caviar, mollusks, and oysters are decent sources of the calcium too.
Tofu is a great source of calcium for individuals who do not consume dairy products like milk and cheese. A small four ounce serving of tofu will add about 390 milligrams of calcium to your day. Serve it atop a steaming pile of brown rice to add an extra 50 milligrams for good measure.
Spices & Herbs
Healthy foods do not have to be bland. Many favorite herbs and spices include calcium that you can add to your meal. Reach for varieties like thyme, rosemary, and dill weed when cooking meals. Top deserts with cinnamon to add even more.
As you can see, calcium rich foods are easy to find and they play an important role in our overall health. While it easy to reach for calcium supplements at your local grocery store, your body will be able to use the calcium from food best.
Calcium can affect our bodies when we eat too little and too much, so it is important to keep in mind the amount you need each day. Do not forget that vitamin D impacts how much calcium our bodies can absorb. Add lots of vitamin D and calcium rich foods to your diet together to ensure the proper function of your bones and muscles, and the rest of your body too.