For an average male or female in their 20’s up to 50 years of age, the recommended daily intake (RDI) is 1,000mg. As we get older, it goes up to 1,300mg and it’s also higher during our teenage years when it’s important to lay down a strong bone structure (1). The below graphic shows the RDI for all age groups throughout our lifespan.
Calcium, the most abundant mineral in the body, has many important roles in the body & is much more than purely a mineral for bone strength (despite what media and marketing would have you believe). In addition to calcium, there are other vitamins and minerals that all work in conjunction to promote a strong skeletal system – namely Phosphorus, Vitamin D and Vitamin K2. Calcium gets all the hype and our attention because of the milk industry making us think it’s the be all and end all for proper bone strength….”we will develop osteoporosis if we don’t consume cow milk” is how we are programmed to think from our early days. Despite this, studies have shown that osteoporosis and the risk of fracture in elderly can be reduced by diets higher in plant foods compared to animal foods (2).⠀⠀
Other than bone strength, calcium plays a very important role in:
✔Heart rate, rhythm and contraction
✔Skeletal muscle contraction
✔Blood clotting ⠀⠀⠀⠀
About 40% of bone mineral density is built in our teenage years and then peak mass is reached by late twenties. Hence, the requirement for calcium in our teenage years is actually higher than the requirement in our 3rd and 4th decades. As we approach our mid thirties, bone loss begins which is when diet is super important to ensure that bone loss occurs at a safe rate and doesn’t place you at risk of osteoporosis. In particular, post menopausal women are more prone to rapid bone loss due to changes in oestrogen levels. We can slow down bone loss and maintain bone density by consuming a balanced diet that includes plenty of calcium-rich foods, reducing alcohol intake and avoiding smoking. In addition, adequate Vitamin D consumption is super important for maximising calcium absorption.
1 – Eat calcium-rich foods that are low in oxalates for your calcium (shown in the infographic below)
2 – Eat calcium-rich fresh vegetables fresh. Once they have been in the fridge for more than 2-3 days, the calcium content decreases dramatically.
3 – Get 30 min of sun exposure per week OR take a Vitamin D supplement
4 – Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
5 – Engage in moderate exercise regularly
6 – Try not to rely on calcium from foods that have high oxalate content. It’s important to note the foods high in oxalates (spinach, green beets, almonds, etc.) are fine to have in your diet. In fact, they each have amazing vitamin and mineral content which are not affected by the oxalates, however they are not great in terms of providing a bioavailable source of calcium. In saying this, it’s always worthwhile reminding ourselves that the RDI of 1,000mg is set at around 3 x what we actually need because it is commonly known that not all of what is consumed will be absorbed. That is the same for the RDI of all vitamins and minerals, so don’t stress too much about this – only really relevant if you have deficiency that’s found on a blood test, osteoporosis or calcium oxalate kidney stones.
7 – Soak your nuts for 8-12 hours to improve calcium absorption by nearly 20% and boil high oxalate greens such as spinach and beet greens to reduce the oxalate content in them.
8 – If you do not think you are getting enough calcium per day, consider a calcium supplement which can be a calcium dedicated supplement or a multivitamin. Most multivitamins contain 200-400mg of calcium. If you are going to supplement and you are not getting the recommended 20 minutes of sun exposure a day, you may find a Calcium/Vitamin D combination supplement a convenient way of staying on top of these two super important nutrients. Most of these say on the label that they are best taken with a meal as they are absorbed best in the presence of stomach acid. However, if you are iron or zinc deficient it’s better to take your calcium supplements 1 hour after or before iron/zinc-rich meals as calcium inhibits the absorption of these minerals.
I know we have grown up thinking of it as COWLCIUM, however studies have shown that we do not need to drink cows milk to get our daily calcium requirements…so we can avoid cows milk and get calcium without the pus cells, hormones and blood! Furthermore, clinical research has shown you can absorb the same amount of calcium from fortified soy milk as you can from cows milk, if not more (around 300-400mg per cup).
It’s time to unlearn what marketing, unfortunately, made us believe ❌🐮
I have created the below infographic to help you identify the the top plant-based calcium sources. I have also added an example of how 1,000mg of calcium can easily be achieved in a days worth of eating.
A study has looked at exactly this. The results show the available calcium (absorption) is the same (3). A key thing to note is that if you are having fortified soy milk, you need to shake it up before pouring – the calcium settles to the bottom so a quick shake will ensure you are getting calcium with each serve.
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