Girl-power slogans aside, a woman’s strength does not rest solely in her spirit; her bones take credit too! In order to keep that strength going, a little help is needed. Enter calcium – the nutrient that is responsible chiefly for fortifying bone cells. While this is a fact everyone is well-versed with, there are other physiological functions that require calcium as well. Dr Priya Fredric, based in Chennai, is a nutrition expert who runs her own clinic. She sheds light on ways to optimize this mineral for your body.
“Your body’s functions such as blood clotting, nerve and muscle coordination also need calcium”, she says. “Recent studies are even looking to prove that calcium, along with vitamin D, may have benefits beyond bone health, perhaps protecting against cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure. Now although these studies have yet to become conclusive, it is safe to say calcium is one of those vital presences in your body that works towards maintaining its functionality.” Women are more calcium-dependent because of the greater toll taken on their body by the biological changes they go through. “When you’re pregnant, you are developing baby needs calcium to build strong bones and teeth; to build a healthy heart, nerves and muscles; and to develop a normal heart rhythm and blood-clotting abilities.”
How does my body get the calcium it needs?
“Your teenage years, especially between ages eleven and fifteen, are when the bones develop quickly. Majority of the calcium stored in your body accumulates during these years and it is this storage that your body feeds from. Since these are also generally the most active years of one’s life, the body extracts a huge supply of calcium for various functions, leaving the bones weak due to withdrawal amounts far exceeding the deposits. This is why it is important to constantly replenish the calcium level in your system. The body needs to be able to source calcium from the bloodstream and that means incorporating calcium into your everyday intake. And not only is it necessary to consume a calcium-rich diet every day, it also matters what you balance the calcium-rich foods with in your diet.”
How do I enrich my diet with calcium?
The good thing about watching calcium intake is that it is not too hard. A lot of foods have calcium. Dr Fredric says, “Milk is the best source – anyone will attest to that. It is also a good source of magnesium and phosphorus which avail the calcium for easy absorption and usage by the body. Failing that, dairy products like yoghurt, cheeses and calcium are a close second. They contain a form of calcium that can be easily absorbed by your body. Whole milk (4% fat) is recommended for children between the ages of one and two, while adults and children over the age of two should drink low fat (2% or less) or skim milk. These percentages are a standard in western diets, whereas in India, the general understanding is that wholesome health comes only from standardised or whole milk. Truth be told, removing the fat will not lower the amount of calcium in any dairy product.”
“Other sources of calcium are your green leafy vegetables. Make faces all you want, but the more you run away from the likes of broccoli, spinach, drumstick greens, turnip greens, cabbage (especially Chinese cabbage), the more you deprive yourself of a bounty of calcium. Thankfully though, there are appetising sources of calcium as well – salmon and sardines, almonds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and molasses are also packed with calcium.”
Ways to make sure your body absorbs the calcium you send in:
Cook foods in a small amount of water for the shortest possible time to retain more calcium in them.
Watch what you pair your calcium-rich foods with: certain fibres such as wheat bran and foods with oxalic acid (spinach and beets) can bind with calcium and prevent it from being absorbed.
Who needs calcium supplements?
“How much calcium you need depends on your age and gender. Other factors such as pregnancy, illnesses and medical history are also relevant parameters. Only individual care providers can tell you if you require supplementary dosages of calcium. Dietary supplements may contain only calcium or calcium with other nutrients such as vitamin D. Always check the label on the Supplement Facts panel and be in the know of the amount of calcium; never take more than the recommended amount without your doctor’s go-ahead. Calcium absorption is best when taken in amounts of no more than 500mg at a time. Calcium citrate (taken up well by the body on a full or empty stomach) and calcium carbonate (better absorbed by the body when taken with food) are the two commonly available forms of calcium.”
What happens when my body fails to get the calcium it needs?
“A dip in calcium intake lowers the ‘bone mineral density’, leading to thinning or weakening of the bones – osteoporosis. An estimated one in four women over the age of fifty suffers from osteoporosis. Since bone debilitation occurs very gradually, showing no overt symptoms, it can escape deduction for several years until one or more fractures are sustained. Given today’s lifestyle, which is largely sedentary and lacking in exercise, risks of bone diseases have risen manifold, making it a rather pressing subject. Women who identify themselves in the risk sector need to monitor their internal calcium quantity and must never dismiss even slight joint aches and stiffness.”
With so much good to offer, calcium can hardly be overlooked in our day-to-day consumptive habits. Ensure your diet features adequate measures of this essential mineral and keep health risks cut to the bone!
Calcium’s Lesser-Known Sibling
As much as we are all aware of how integral calcium is, most still remain unconscious of the fact that for the calcium to be accessed by the body, we need vitamin D. This is how the two nutrients work together for bone health: vitamin D, being a fat-soluble vitamin, maintains the concentrations of calcium to be absorbed by the body; the calcium so absorbed then helps in the building and upkeep of bones!
The popular source of vitamin D is good old sunshine, but in instances where lifestyle or climate or a skin condition does not allow enough exposure to it, foods such as fatty fish (salmon, trout, mackerel), fortified milk, egg yolks, fortified orange juice and Portobello mushrooms (available at gourmet markets) replenish the vitamin D levels of your body.