Calcium: Why It’s Better to Get It from Foods Rather than Supplements

calcium bones

Our body’s need for calcium cannot be overemphasized.  Calcium’s near-omnipresence in the human body accounts for the expedience of replenishing this mineral on a daily basis. While your bones and teeth take a split of 99% of your calcium stores, it is also found in the blood, nerve cells, muscles, connective tissue, and bodily fluids.

WHY IT’S A BIG DEAL YOU GET ENOUGH

Calcium is a naturally occurring mineral that is essential for bone growth and cardiovascular health.  It’s also needed for healthy teeth and normal immune system function. It maximizes bone density and helps maintain a regular heartbeat. Calcium is also vital for proper nerve communication, muscle relaxation, hormonal balance, and blood clotting.

Sufficient calcium is needed for optimal health. Calcium deficiency in adults often leads to osteoporosis, osteopenia, high cholesterol, arrhythmia, hypertension, and underactive parathyroid glands, whereas children deficient in calcium are prone to rickets. Prevention via optimum calcium intake is therefore mandatory as these deficiency symptoms are either life-threatening or severely debilitating.

HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?

Recommended calcium intake varies in both sexes and different age groups. Males and females, though, generally have the same calcium requirements (800-1,100 mg/day) except in the 51-70 age group. Younger children need 500-800 mg of this bone-building nutrient on a daily basis.

THE BEST SOURCES OF CALCIUM

Calcium rich foods include:

* yogurt

* milk

* cheese

* soy milk

* tofu

* sardines

* salmon

* egg yolks

* beans

* green vegetables such as bok choy, collards, spinach, mustard greens, Swiss chard, watercress, turnip greens, cabbage, and kale.

Among all the calcium foods, dairy has the highest calcium content. But it should not be your sole or primary source of calcium. As with calcium supplements not all calcium foods are the same.

A GLASS A DAY…?

Milk, it turns out, is an over-rated source of calcium. Apart from its high allergenicity the high vitamin A content in milk can actually give you brittle bones. Milk has also been linked to prostate and breast cancer. So try not to heavily rely on powdered milk or Swiss cheese in increasing your dietary calcium intake. Always make sure that your dairy is organically sourced as well.

Now you might be thinking, aren’t greens high in carotenes, which is a type of vitamin A? Carotenes, compared to animal-based retinoids such as vitamin A present in milk, is pre-converted vitamin A. According to Phyllis Balch, author of Prescription for Nutritional Healingbeta carotene from food in large amounts isn’t toxic (in supplement form is a different story). The liver converts only 40% of your carotene intake. The rest your body uses as antioxidants. So if you don’t need more of this fat-soluble vitamin, then your liver won’t convert carotenes into vitamin A anymore. Green vegetables and other alkaline sources of calcium such as broccoli, asparagus, almonds, sesame seeds, and sea vegetables (kelp and dulse) are excellent alternatives to dairy because of their high mineral density and ability to raise the body’s pH levels, which keeps the blood from pulling out calcium from your bones.

CALCIUM’S MORTAL ENEMIES

Another thing to consider: calcium absorption is actually hindered by the presence of iron and zinc. For this reason foods high in iron and zinc must not be consumed with calcium foods within the same meal. Caffeine and excessive protein, sodium, and phosphorus levels also affect calcium absorption negatively and usually result in calcium deficiency later on. Soda and alcohol consumption also leach out precious calcium from your body. It is better to drastically cut your consumption of both substances.  On the flip side, nutrients such as vitamin D and magnesium are needed by the body to make better use of calcium.

SUPPLEMENTS: NO-NO OR GO-GO?

It’s a no-brainer that calcium is best obtained from food sources rather than supplement pills. Natural (meaning unfortified) food sources of calcium contain a great many other beneficial nutrients that lab-engineered supplements sadly do not have.

Calcium supplements may also have unintended side effects, such as increasing heart attack risks in women.

Of course, we cannot lump all calcium supplements together. Synthetic calcium
supplements cannot hold a candle to whole food-based ones, since synthetic calcium supplements usually contain chemical binders, artificial fillers, toxic preservatives, and coal tar derivatives. Natural food-based supplements contain nutritive co-factors such as macronutrients, vitamins, minerals,  and phytochemicals that jack up the potency of calcium and the other nutrients present in the supplement.  The American Dietetic Association does recommend calcium supplements for special circumstances, such as during pregnancy, lactation, and  menopause as legitimate reasons for supplementing with calcium. Vegetarians, vegans, and those on low-calorie diets may also benefit from taking calcium supplements.

Want to enjoy superior health? Then optimize your calcium intake by carefully planning your meals and incorporating various food sources of calcium today!

If you want to know more about your need for calcium, follow @DrBoneHealth and @OsteoporosisNOF, who are writing great stuff on the subject.

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