Calcium and Its Importance To Your Health

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Calcium is very important for your health. In fact, you have more calcium in your body than any other mineral. Calcium is a mineral most often associated with healthy bones and teeth, although it also plays an important role in blood clotting, helping muscles to contract, and regulating normal heart rhythms and nerve functions. About 99% of the body’s calcium is stored in bones, and the remaining 1% is found in blood, muscle, and other tissues. (1) It is estimated that seven out of ten Americans are deficient in calcium.

Some medications may increase your need for calcium because they either lower the absorption of calcium in the gut or cause more calcium to be excreted in the urine.

Our body gets the calcium it needs in two ways. One is by eating foods or supplements that contain calcium, and the other is by drawing from calcium in the body. If one does not eat enough calcium-containing foods, the body will remove calcium from bones. Ideally, the calcium that is “borrowed” from the bones will be replaced at a later point. But this doesn’t always happen, and can’t always be accomplished just by eating more calcium.

Milk and dairy products are great sources of many different nutrients, including calcium. Sometimes we can’t or won’t eat enough dairy foods to get the calcium we need. There are a variety of other foods that provide a good source of this important mineral. These include seafood, leafy greens, legumes, dried fruit, tofu, and various foods that are fortified with calcium. (2)

Seeds are tiny nutritional powerhouses. Some are high in calcium, including poppy, sesame, celery, and chia seeds. Seeds also deliver protein and healthy fats. For example, chia seeds and flax seeds are rich in plant-based omega-3 fatty acids. Sesame seeds have 9% of the RDI for calcium in 1 tablespoon (9 grams), plus other minerals, including copper, iron, and manganese.

Yogurt is one of the best sources of calcium. A serving of yogurt provides 30% of the RDI in one cup (245 grams). It’s also a good source of protein and other nutrients.

Sardines and canned salmon are loaded with calcium. This is due primarily to their edible bones. A 3.75-ounce (92-gram) can of sardine packs 35% of the RDI, and 3 ounces (85 grams) of canned salmon with bones have 21%. These oily fish also provide high-quality protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for your heart, brain, and skin. While seafood can contain mercury, smaller fish such as sardines have low levels. In addition, both sardines and salmon have high levels of selenium, a mineral that can prevent and reverse mercury toxicity.

Nuts are another great source. Of all nuts, almonds are among the highest in calcium — one ounce of almonds, or about 22 nuts, delivers 8% of the RDI.  Almonds also provide 3 grams of fiber per ounce (28 grams), as well as healthy fats and protein. In addition, they’re an excellent source of magnesium, manganese and vitamin E. Eating nuts may help lower blood pressure, body fat and other risk factors for metabolic disease.  

Calcium requirements

How much calcium you need depends on your age and sex.

Calcium: Recommended daily amount
19-50 years1,000 mg
51-70 years1,000 mg
71 and older1,200 mg
19-50 years1,000 mg
51 and older1,200 mg

The recommended upper limit for calcium is 2,500 mg a day for adults 19 to 50. For those 51 and older, the limit is 2,000 mg a day. (3)

Your body needs several other nutrients in order for calcium to be absorbed and used properly, including magnesium, phosphorous, and especially vitamins D and K. Many factors, including age, disease states, and medications, can affect calcium absorption. Carbohydrates may enhance calcium absorption while coffee and cigarette smoke may impede it. Following a diet that includes calcium rich foods is an easy way to maintain the proper balance in your body. 

(1) Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D.
(2) Non-Dairy Sources of Calcium
(3) Calcium and calcium supplements: Achieving the right balance

Dr. Loretta T. Friedman, founder of Synergy Health Associates

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