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10 of the best calcium foods to add to your diet

Calcium is a mineral that’s essential for good health, yet statistics from the country’s osteoporosis society reveal that a large portion of the South African population receives less than half of the daily recommended calcium intake. In fact, the country records one of the highest rates of rickets in children, a condition associated with calcium deficiency. Low or inadequate levels of calcium in the body can cause serious health complications, like osteoporosis. Read more, as Bloom Financial Services, together with Momentum Health4Me, provide insightful advice about sourcing the best calcium foods for your diet.

Why do we need calcium?

Calcium is a mineral that is needed in our bodies to promote healthy living, especially for healthy bone structure and growth. Although it is the most abundant mineral in the human body, we lose calcium through our skin, nails, sweat, urine and faeces every day. Our bodies are also not able to produce calcium and, when there is a deficiency, the body takes calcium from our bones. Along with calcium, the human body also requires Vitamin D as this mineral helps the body absorb calcium.

Benefits and role of calcium in the body

Calcium is needed to aid with basic bodily functions and overall health. Some of the most important roles of calcium include the following: 

  • Bone health. Calcium is a vital component needed for the development, growth and maintenance of bones and teeth. 
  • Muscle contraction. Calcium regulates muscle contraction The body releases calcium, which works with proteins to enable the movement of contraction. It also maintains the action of the heart muscle. 
  • Cardiovascular system. Calcium is required for the process of blood clotting in the body. It is also a co-factor for many enzymes.

10 foods calcium-rich foods

If you want to improve your calcium intake or if you’re concerned that you’re not getting enough calcium, just take a look at your diet. Calcium occurs naturally in many food products, some of which are not dairy-based. Try some of these calcium foods: 

1. Milk

One of the cheapest and most accessible forms of calcium is milk. Dairy has the added benefit of being a calcium source that is most easily absorbed by the body. 

2. Yoghurt

Unsweetened and unflavoured yoghurt, is a great calcium food source and is also a very good probiotic choice.

3. Fortified juices

Fortified juices (or beverages) are those products where the manufacturer has specifically added certain vitamins or nutrients, like calcium so check the packaging labels. Fortified drinks, like nut, soy or rice milk, or orange juice, are a great alternative to dairy if you are lactose intolerant or if you follow a plant-based diet.

4. Tofu

Tofu, or bean curd, is prepared with a high amount of calcium so it’s a good choice as a vegetarian option for calcium intake. It also has the added benefit of being gluten-free and low in cholesterol.

5. Fortified foods

Fortified foods, like drinks, have had nutrients added to the product to enrich the dietary quality of the food. You can expect to receive calcium-rich foods from whole grain bread, certain types of granola, whole grain cereals and unsweetened oatmeal.

6. Leafy greens

Certain types of dark, leafy green vegetables, like spinach and kale, are high in calcium. Be advised though that spinach also contains oxalates, which can make it difficult for the body to absorb the calcium. Other sources of leafy greens include Swiss chard, podded peas, broccoli and brussel sprouts.

7. Beans and lentils

In addition to being packed with calcium, beans and lentils also contain plenty of protein, fibre and micronutrients. This is another excellent calcium food source for those who prefer a dairy-free or vegetarian diet.

8. Almonds and seeds

Almonds of a powerhouse of energy, containing high levels of calcium, magnesium, manganese and vitamin E. Seeds like chia, poppy and sesame are great sources of calcium and also contain healthy fats and protein.

9. Sardines and salmon

Oily, bony fish, like sardines, salmon and pilchards are calcium foods. Not only do they contain essential Omega-3 fatty acids, which are vital for brain functioning but they are also very high in calcium. 

10. Cheese

Harder cheeses, like parmesan, tend to have a higher calcium content while softer cheese has a lower amount of calcium. Cottage cheese is also an excellent source of calcium and is packed with protein as well. 

How much calcium should one take per day?

The recommended dietary allowance of calcium will depend on your age. The recommended daily calcium intake for adults (19-50 years) is 1,000 mg. Other recommended calcium intake allowances are:

  • 0-6 months: 200 mg
  • 7-12 months: 260 mg
  • 1-3 years: 700 mg
  • 4-8 years: 1,000 mg
  • 9-18 years: 1,300 mg
  • 51-70 years: 1,000 mg (men) and 1,200 mg (women)

What is a calcium deficiency?

Hypocalcemia, or calcium deficiency, occurs when your body has inadequate levels of calcium. This can lead to serious health problems, some of which include the following:

 

  • Osteoporosis. Bones store calcium and require high levels of calcium for growth, maintenance and development. When the body’s calcium content is low, it can divert the mineral from the bones which can cause one to develop brittle or weak bones.

 

  • Dental problems. Likewise, teeth also require adequate calcium for good oral health. Poor calcium levels can cause brittle teeth, tooth rot or decay.

 

  • Muscle problems. Due to the fact that calcium is an essential component used in the contraction of muscles, a calcium deficiency will cause muscular problems in the body. Symptoms can include severe cramping, experiencing pain when undertaking certain movement or numbness in one’s hands and/or feet. 

 

  • Fatigue. Low levels of calcium can render one feeling less energised and extremely fatigued. Cognitive complications, like forgetfulness or an inability to focus, are common symptoms.

 

  • Hair, skin and nail problems. Long-term calcium deficiency will take its toll on one’s hair, skin and nails. A calcium-deficient person can expect to develop coarse hair or experience extreme hair loss. Likewise, their nails become broken and brittle. Skin problems, like eczema or psoriasis, can occur. 

Who is most at risk for a calcium deficiency?

Some people may be more prone to developing a calcium deficiency than others due to certain medical conditions and lifestyle choices. These include:

  • Postmenopausal women
  • Women with amenorrhea (cessation of menstruation, usually associated with anorexia nervosa)
  • People who are lactose intolerant
  • Vitamin D deficiency (as this inhibits calcium absorption)
  • Kidney disease or failure
  • Digestive disorders, like Crohn’s Disease, celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease
  • People taking certain medications or undergoing medical treatment, like chemotherapy
  • High use or intake of laxatives, caffeine or alcohol 

Takeaway

If you suspect that you may not be getting enough calcium, take a look at your diet. Adding some recommended calcium foods is often the best approach. Bloom Financial Services, a leading provider of quality health insurance plans, advocates for healthy living by making smart lifestyle choices. Get health insurance cover for you and your family. Contact our offices to make an appointment with a trained consultant and select the best health insurance plan for your needs. 

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