Mom always said to “Drink your milk–you need calcium to grow!” But is that all we need calcium for, and is that the only way to get it? Calcium is an essential mineral found in our bodies and all living organisms. It is the fifth most plentiful element on our planet and requires magnesium and vitamin D for efficient absorption and metabolizing in our bodies.
What Calcium Does for Your Body
Calcium is essential for you to maintain total body health. You need a supply of it every day to maintain proper muscle and nerve function, allow your blood to clot, and of course, to keep your teeth and bones strong.
Specifically, you need calcium for:
- muscle contraction
- secretion of hormones and enzymes
- blood vessel expansion and contraction
- transmitting impulses throughout your nervous system
How Calcium Maintains Body Health
While you may think you’re getting enough calcium everyday, you may not be–most Americans don’t. If your diet is low in dietary sources of calcium, your body will “borrow” what it needs from your bones. Your body will return dietary calcium to the bones from what you supply through diet, unless your supply is insufficient (that leads to calcium deficiencies and possibly Osteoporosis). Since the average person loses 400 to 500mg of calcium each day from a low calcium diet, making sure you’re getting the RDA of calcium is critical to overall body health.
The two basic ways for your body to get calcium are through absorption of dietary calcium and supplements.
Vitamin and mineral supplements are not the ideal form of calcium intake, but if you’re aware that your diet lacks calcium-rich foods then taking a supplement is an excellent option. Keep the following guidelines in mind:
- Iron interferes with calcium absorption and should not be taken at the same time.
- Vitamin C is beneficial to calcium metabolizing. Make sure you’re getting enough.
- Calcium is most beneficial in two smaller doses than one large dose.
- Supplements taken with food are more effectively absorbed.
- Sleep is thought to accelerate proper calcium metabolizing. Take a supplement at your dinner meal.
Most dairy products contain a plentiful dose of calcium, including cheeses, milk, sour cream, and yogurt. These products can also be high in fat and cholesterol, so look for skim or low fat options.
If you’re lactose intolerant or vegetarian (avoiding animal products), the following non-dairy foods are also rich in calcium:
- orange juice
- whole wheat bread
- chinese cabbage
- turnip greens
How Your Body Can Retain More Calcium
Boosting you calcium intake is important, but your body doesn’t always absorb and retain all of the calcium you give it. However, you can help with absorption and retention by:
- getting plenty of potassium. Your body uses it to reduce the amount of calcium your body expels.
- reducing your alcohol intake. Alcohol interferes with your how your body absorbs calcium.
- eating lots of fruits and vegetables. With the help of fruits and vegetables, your body will produce bicarbonate that shifts the acid/base balance to help your body retain and metabolize more of the calcium you give it.
Our bodies have an amazing ability to absorb and metabolize the nutrients we give it. It’s up to us to supply those nutrients with a healthy diet!