Allison is a nutritional scientist and one of the most enthusiastic Canadian educators of nutrition and food. She is the author of four books including The 100 Healthi est Foods to Eat During Pregnancy (Fairwinds 2009), Feed Your Skin, Starve Your Wrinkles (Fairwinds 2009) and Probiotic Rescue (Wiley 2008).
Calcium is an important mineral that deserves all the hype and attention. It's the building blocks of your bones - the structural ''backbone' of our body.
You Need Calcium
Every time you contract a muscle you're using calcium. That means every heartbeat, every hand movement, even smiling, requires calcium. If that's not enough reason to give calcium its due spotlight, consider its vital role in maintaining an alkaline pH in your body. Calcium is also necessary for metabolic functions including nerve transmission, intracellular signaling, hormone secretion and vascular dilation.
As such, your body pays a lot of attention to calcium, tightly regulating the concentration in your blood stream. Considering all of the ways we use calcium, it's crucial that our diets (food and supplements) contain enough of it.
Where does your body find calcium when your food choices aren't providing enough? Bone tissue is the body's reservoir of calcium. If your diet is lacking in calcium, your bones are losing structural integrity. In aging adults, particularly postmenopausal women, bone breakdown exceeds formation, resulting in bone loss over time and increasing the risk of osteoporosis. The World Health Organization classifies Osteoporosis as the world's second leading health problem.
On a daily basis, how much calcium are we consuming? There isn't national data available, but dietary surveys from some provinces suggest men consume about 750-1150mg, and women 550-750mg. However, dietary recommendations say adults (19-50 years) should be consuming 1000mg of calcium daily, with those over 50 years of age requiring 1200mg a day.
Getting More Calcium
Lots of healthy foods contain calcium. Dairy products are an obvious source, but don't forget about dark greens, nuts, beans and fish with bones (sardines). As well, calcium supplements can help offer your body more of this critical mineral, as well as co-factors (vitamin D, magnesium, vitamin K and more) to optimize bone health.
How much calcium is in there?
¾ cup of plain yogurt = 290 mg of calcium
1 cup of milk = 300 mg of calcium
¾ cup of chickpeas = 58 mg of calcium
¼ cup of almonds = 93 mg of calcium
1 pouch of instant oatmeal = 82 mg of calcium
½ cup of bok choy = 84 mg of calcium
½ cup of broccoli = 33 mg of calcium
Chalking Through It
There are many forms of calcium supplements on the market, including calcium ascorbate, carbonate, citrate, fumerate, glutarate, malate and succinate. Research has found each form of calcium has its benefits. It is nice to have options, but all of these forms can make choosing a calcium supplement very challenging. One option to consider, since each form has its benefits, is to choose a supplement that offers multiple forms of calcium - you get the benefits of each.
Big and Bulky
If you are taking a multivitamin you need to know that it typically does not contain enough calcium to meet your bones' and body's needs. Why? Calcium is a big mineral; it takes up a lot of space in a multivitamin. To keep multivitamins to a swallow-able size, manufacturers add in as much calcium as they can, but typically this is not enough to meet your daily requirements.
The scientific jury may still out on which calcium supplement is superior; however, scientists do agree that calcium absorption involves many factors. When choosing a calcium supplement be sure to look for these supportive cofactors involved in ideal calcium metabolism in the body: vitamin D, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin C, copper and zinc. Some supplements also include whole foods, such as green food concentrates or broccoli, as these are sources of calcium, vitamin K and other key nutrients for bone health. More complete bone health supplements include silica; a strong mineral found in healthy bones, hair and nails.
Strong and healthy bones start with calcium. Ensure your diet includes enough calcium by choosing calcium-rich foods, and using a calcium supplement that includes important cofactors to support this important mineral's absorption. And, consider buffing up! Doing weight bearing exercises can help your bones build up strength too.
Allison Tannis, BSc MSc RHN
Ahmadieh, H and A. Arabi. Vitamins and bone health: beyond calcium and vitamin D.
Nutr Rev 2011 Oct; 69(10):584-98.
Health Canada Scientific Summary of the U.S. Health Claim Regarding Calcium and
Osteoporosis. Health Canada - May 2000.
Health Link British Columbia File #68e, March 2011 - Nutrition Series Calcium.
Palacios C. The role of nutrients in bone health, from A to Z. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr