Calcium

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Calcium is a mineral that’s found primarily in your teeth and bones. There is no other mineral more abundant in your body than calcium. Your body uses calcium to build and rebuild bones, make and release hormones, and help your muscles contract.

Calcium is a very important element in your central nervous system. It’s involved in all of your nerve functions including your heart and your digestive tract. It’s also plays a role in your mood levels it has a calming effect on your nerves. It also helps prevent cancer in your body, especially, in your digestive tract.

 

Signs of Calcium Deficiency

Calcium deficiency is called hypocalcemia. Some signs of hypocalcemia include cramping, muscle spasms, fatigue, poor appetite and numbness or tingling in your extremities. With long-term calcium deficiency, you may begin to see signs of osteoarthritis and osteoporosis like low bone density and an increased risk of fractures or breaks. There may be signs of mental confusion and skeletal malformations, especially in children and infants.

Hypocalcemia can be hard to detect because your body will steal calcium from your bones in order to use it for other functions throughout your body. This is why people who have consistently low levels of calcium in their body, can develop conditions like osteoporosis relatively early in life. This is especially important for women because calcium helps regulate estrogen Both calcium and estrogen are closely involved with bone health. Men are also suseptable to developing osteoporosis. However, estrogen is less pronounced in males compared to females and it does not have as strong an impact in men as it does in women.

 

How Much Calcium Daily

According to the standards set by the National Institute of Health (NIH), infants and children 0-3 years old should get between 400 and 800 mg of calcium daily. Children 4 – 10 years old should get about 800 mg daily. Adolescent males and females should get between 800 -1,200 mg of calcium daily.

Women who are pregnant or lactating should keep getting at least 1,000 mg minimum of calcium daily. They should check with their doctor to determine how much more calcium is necessary for them to take.

It’s also important to note that you need plenty of stomach acid in order for calcium to be converted into a form that you can absorb. Eating calcium rich foods or taking calcium supplements on an empty stomach will prevent most of the calcium from being absorbed.

Age Male Female Pregnant or Lactating  Upper Limit
0 – 3 Years 400 – 800 mg 400 – 800 mg
4 – 10 Years 800 mg 800 mg
Adolescents 800 – 1200 mg 800 – 1200 mg  1,000 – 1,200 mg  2,000 mg
18+ Years 500 – 600 mg 1,000 – 1,200 mg  1,000 – 1,200 mg  2,000 mg

 

How Much is Too Much?

The upper limit is 2,000 mg of calcium daily, you should not exceed this amount unless cleared by your physician. Too much calcium can lead to constipation, loss of appetite nausea and vomiting. More serious risks include developing an irregular heart rhythm and an increased risk of prostate cancer in men. So, men they should limit their intake to 500-600 mg daily. Calcium calms nerves and too much calcium may impair other nerves and organs in the body. Children and infants should stay well below 2,000 mg, in order to avoid increasing their risks for calcium related diseases.

 

Calcium and Vitamin D

How much calcium you absorb from your diet is closely tied to your vitamin D levels since you need it in order to absorb calcium. Those with conditions like celiac disease are especially at risk of not getting enough calcium, vitamins D and B12.

Seasons can also have a significant impact on how much calcium you absorb from your food. Our bodies use sunlight to make vitamin D. During the summer months, particularly August, our vitamin D levels are at their peak. Likewise, the rate at which we absorb calcium goes up too because more vitamin D is present in our body. During the winter months, our vitamin D levels are generally at their lowest and that may contribute to a decrease in our calcium absorption rate. There may be a link between our elevated moods in the summer and chronic decreased moods in the winter also known as Seasonal Awareness Disorder (SAD).

 

Foods with Calcium

Dairy foods are the largest group of foods that contain calcium.

 

Dairy is another good source of Vitamin D. A cup of 1% Milk can contain up to 130 IU's and a large egg can contain between 30-40 IU's. The vitamin D in eggs is found in the yolk not the egg white portion.

Milk

Two cups of milk can give you around 1,000 mg per day of calcium, which is about 100% of your daily value. 1 cup of milk has 30% (304 mg) of your daily value of calcium, along with 25% of your daily value of Vitamin D. Go for organic, grass fed sources of milk to avoid the antibiotics and other compounds given to cows that can find their way into the milk.
Kefir Kelvin Beecroft flickr 5448450136_b47b2a25e8_z

Kefir

A very healthy fermented milk product that tastes much like yogurt. Like milk, 1 cup has 30% (304 mg) of your daily value of calcium as well as 25% of your daily value of vitamin D. Go for organic, grass fed sources when buying kefir.
Yogurt Master isolated images freedigital ID-10045702

Yogurt

Yogurt has 30% (304 mg) of your daily value of calcium in 1 serving. Some yogurts can have up to 45% (about 450 mg) of your daily value of calcium in 1 serving. Greek yogurts contain about half as much calcium as regular yogurt.

Almond Milk

Although not a true dairy food, it’s classified as a dairy product. Almond milk can have up to 45% of your daily value of calcium in 1 cup.

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Soymilk

Fortified soymilk can have up to 30% of your daily value of calcium.

 

JulieFaith / flickr

Cheeses

There are a wide variety of cheeses to choose from but some of the best sources of calcium are Cheddar, Munster, Edam, Provolone (all with 200 mg or 20% of your daily value of calcium in 1 slice), Mozzarella (220 mg or 22% in 1 slice), Goat cheese (250 mg or 25% in 1 slice). When cooking or baking, Ricotta cheese has about 340 mg (34%) of your daily value of calcium in only 1/2 cup.

 

Non-dairy sources of Calcium

For those who cannot eat dairy or choose not to eat dairy foods, there are great non-dairy sources of calcium as well. Some of these foods are actually better sources of calcium than dairy foods. Keep in mind that milk comes from animals that must get calcium from their diets. Leafy greens are great sources of calcium, which is one of the reasons why cows, and other animals that produce milk for us, should be grass-fed animals and not fed grains or other foods, which are usually not great sources of calcium.
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Collard Greens

These greens are one of the best sources of calcium in dark leafy green foods. It has about 350 mg of calcium per cup.

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Sardines

1 can of sardines has about 35% of your daily value of calcium and over 60% of your daily value of vitamin D. Its also bursting with vitamin B12, over 130% of your daily value.
Caviar on two spoons

Caviar

Black and red caviars have over 27% of your daily value of calcium in 1 tablespoon.

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Canned pink salmon

3 ounces of canned pink salmon has about 18% of the adult daily value of calcium. When the salmon is processed, some of the bones get crushed and become part of the canned salmon. This gives canned salmon an added boost of calcium compared with salmon that is not canned.

hanhanpeggy / istockphoto

Soybeans

1 cup of soybeans has about half your daily value of calcium (500 mg) and about 40% (160 mg) of your daily value of magnesium and 45% of your daily value of potassium (about 1600 mg).
dandelion

Turnip and Dandelion greens

These greens have about 19% of your daily value of calcium.

cookbookman17 / Flickr

White (Navy) beans

These beans have about 100 mg of calcium in ½ cup, which is 10% of your daily value.

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Calcium Supplements vs Calcium in Foods

The answer is it depends. Generally calcium supplements are not recommended for a few reasons. First, our bodies tend not to absorb calcium from supplements as well as it does in food even if the supplement contains some vitamin D. One study suggests that women who get their calcium from foods rather than supplements had tended to have healthier bone density. The study had 183 post-menopausal women record their diet over 1 week. After the week was over, their estrogen and bone densities were measured. The women who took supplements got more calcium in their diets compared to the women who did not take supplements. However, the women who did not take supplements had higher bone densities and estrogen levels a week later. The results suggest that our bodies, especially in older women, may possibly absorb calcium from food more completely than calcium from supplements.

It’s also quite easy with supplements to take in much more calcium in one day than you need. Supplements provide at or around 100% of your daily value of calcium. When combined with calcium from your food, you increase your chance of reaching or exceeding the upper limits of your daily calcium intake (2,000mg). Men are more likely to get too much calcium, which increases their risk of developing prostate cancer. Men only need about 500-600mg per day.

A study that followed over 60,000 women for two decades found that women who took supplements had a greater risk of developing heart disease. When we get too much calcium in our diets, it can begin to build up in our arteries, making them stiffer and less flexible. Over several years calcium deposits can build up to the point where they may block the artery, increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Supplements are not entirely bad however. Women who are pregnant and breast feeding may possibly benefit from taking calcium supplements to make sure they get enough for them and their baby. Generally, women should use calcium supplements when directed by your doctor or a qualified health care professional and should be getting 1,000 – 1,200 mg of calcium total from food and supplements if necessary.

 

What form of calcium is best?

There are several forms that calcium supplements can come in. The most effective form of calcium is calcium citrate. Our bodies can absorb this form of calcium more easily than other forms like calcium carbonate or calcium gluconate.

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