Calcium is critical for the human body. It is the most abundant mineral in the human body. Our bones and teeth consist of over 99% of Calcium present in the body. Calcium is the reason behind making and maintaining our skeletal system strong and resilient. Many other minerals are also involved in the right proportions that lead to proper bone function. Calcium is an essential mineral for trillions of biochemical reactions every second in our body to maintain a healthy metabolism. Calcium is vital for muscle contraction, blood clotting, and stabilizing blood pressure. In addition, Calcium is crucial for normal brain functions. It helps in transporting hormones and enzymes through our blood. It also assists the movement of sperms into an egg for the fertilization process.
Calcium deficiency leads to:
Osteoporosis: It is the condition when your bone becomes porous due to a decrease in bone density. Bone density decreases because bone loss is faster than new bone creation. Osteoporosis weakens bones and makes bones more susceptible to bone fractures. It primarily affects women after menopause.
Rickets: It is a childhood disorder due to prolonged Calcium and vitamin D deficiency that leads to softening and distortions of bone.
Osteomalacia: Condition caused by severe vitamin D and calcium deficiency results in weak, soft bones in adults.
The recommended daily intake of Calcium: (10)
Birth to 6 months - 200 mg
Infants 7–12 months - 260 mg
Children 1–3 years - 700 mg
Children 4–8 years - 1,000 mg
Children 9–13 years - 1,300 mg
Teens 14–18 years - 1,300 mg
Adults 19–50 years - 1,000 mg
Adult men 51–70 years - 1,000 mg
Adult women 51–70 years - 1,200 mg
Adults 71 years and older - 1,200 mg
Pregnant and breastfeeding adults - 1,000 mg
Milk for Calcium?
“Milk has calcium in it that can help you grow healthy teeth and bones.”
“Milk and milk products are great sources of calcium and other minerals that make for good health and body maintenance.”
Do these lines seem familiar to you? Do we need to drink milk or eat dairy products to have enough Calcium? Milk contains animal protein that exceeds acid load in the body, unlike plant protein. (17) (18) Therefore, our body neutralizes the acid by using Calcium, a base pulled out of the bone. This demineralization (calcium loss ) process makes our bone brittle and prone to fracture. (19) (20)Studies have shown that women consuming more dairy products are more prone to have osteoporosis. A study done on 1000 menopausal women suggests that the highest consumption of dairy is related to more bone loss and hip fractures. Milk sure is a complete food for babies that they get from their mommy’s breast. Nowadays, adults get to drink milk that goes through homogenization and pasteurization, laden with impurities and hormones(sometimes artificial), and not to forget saturated fats. Consuming milk has several side effects like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. By saying this, I am not suggesting following veganism; it is an ask to have an informed choice. You can have enough Calcium from grains, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Besides, many greens and vegetables like mustard greens, Broccoli, and kale have better bioavailability than milk. One of the reasons people who consume a lot of green vegetables have less risk of osteoporosis.
Plant-based Calcium-rich food
calcium content /100 gm
Oats – 54mg
Finger millet - 344 mg
Poppy seeds - 1438 mg
Sesame seeds - 429 mg
Chia seeds - 533 mg
Flax seeds - 255mg
Red lentils - 60 mg
Navy beans - 49 mg
Kidney beans - 40 mg
Black beans - 42 mg
Collard greens - 118 mg
Mustard greens - 115 mg
Bok choy - 106 mg
Chopped kale - 133 mg
Moringa leaves - 440 mg
Fenugreek leaves - 395 mg
Dill leaves – 208 mg
Tofu - 118 mg calcium
Organic soy milk - 188 mg calcium
Edamame - 63 mg calcium
Navel orange - 43 mg calcium
Broccoli - 46 mg calcium
Dried figs - 162 mg calcium
Almonds - 273mg calcium
Peanut – 92 mg
Pepitas- 55 mg
Fox nuts- 60 mg
Supplements or no supplements?
Growing up in the nineties, I remember how calcium supplements for kids were popular over-the-counter medicine that came in a happy puppy bottle. Those pills were marketed so cleverly that both parents and children embraced the idea of calcium supplementation. Thus, kids used to pop 500mg of Calcium twice a day without a prescription. Pregnant, pre-and postmenopausal women were also advised to take calcium supplements daily. This misconception was running everywhere so much that you could find calcium pill bottles in every household. These myths were debunked based on several findings.
Supplemental Calcium has little or no nutritional value. Like iron and copper, excess Calcium is toxic to the human body. (2)
Several researchers suggest that dietary Calcium is more impactful than supplemental Calcium when it comes to bone-building because the body better absorbs Calcium from a food source than from a pill form. (21)
Finally, Calcium gets absorbed more effectively when taken in a small quantity at a time. Excess Calcium in the body can accelerate the calcification of arteries, leads heart-related disorders. Besides, extra Calcium contributes to several severe ailments like Gastrointestinal disorders, kidney stones, and prostate and ovarian cancers. (3) (22)Therefore, taking calcium supplements under a doctor’s guidance is always good.
Factors that interfere with the calcium absorption
Sometimes, people consume enough Calcium but cannot absorb it effectively; thus, they are deficient in this vital mineral. Several factors can interfere with calcium absorption.
Not enough ingestion of other essential nutrients
Calcium absorption is efficiently done by your body when you have enough other essential nutrients. Vitamin D, Vitamin K 2, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and Magnesium play a crucial role in calcium absorption. Vitamin A, D, and K2 metabolize Calcium in our diet and make sure that Calcium from our body gets deposited in the bone. Therefore, it is essential to have a diet rich in all nutrients. (24)
Sedentary lifestyle Several researchers suggest that people with sedentary lifestyles suffer more calcium loss and are more prone to fractures. Regular exercise is crucial for strong bones. (4)
Indulgence In ultra-processed food
The body effectively does calcium absorption in the presence of prebiotics which is present in plant-based whole food. Therefore, it is essential to incorporate real food /prebiotics for better calcium absorption. (8)
Excess sodium in your food
Highly processed and convenience food like chips, fries, and other packaged food contains excess salt. By consuming those products, you are increasing the chances of calcium loss. Be mindful of salt while cooking as well. (25)
More animal-derived proteins in your food
Smoking and alcohol use
Dependent on oxalate-rich food for Calcium
Oxalate is an anti-nutrient present in many commonly used greens like spinach, beet greens, Swiss chard, etc. Oxalates interfere with the calcium absorption process. Cooking and boiling these greens can neutralize oxalates to a great extent. Be sure to add other Calcium-rich food to your diet to ensure adequate calcium intake.