Updated: Aug 31, 2020
Calcium is a mineral found in many foods which is mainly stored in our bones and teeth.
Calcium is required for nerve signals between the brain and body, enables blood vessels move blood through the body and assists in releasing hormones and enzymes that help facilitate bodily functions.
Individuals who may not consume enough calcium are those who are lactose intolerant, avoid dairy products and may not be aware of plant based calcium rich foods, post-menopausal women who experience rapid bone loss and reduced calcium absorption, those who experience amenorrhea (loss of period) due to excessive exercise, stress, hormonal conditions or those with an inadequate diet as well as some plant based eaters.
Teenagers as well as the elderly need slightly higher daily requirements of calcium.
What can hinder our calcium absorption?
Low vitamin D levels; Vitamin D assists with the absorption of calcium
Old age; our absorption rate reduces as we get older
Oxalic acid (can be found in beans and vegetables) and phytic acid (can be found in legumes)
Excessive intake of alcohol & caffeine beverages
How can we prevent reduced calcium absorption through oxylates and phytates? Always soaking and washing our legumes, beans, nuts and grains thoroughly!
Why is dietary calcium important? When we don’t consume enough calcium in our diet, our bodies take calcium from our bones to maintain optimal blood levels of calcium, therefore, the effects of inadequate dietary calcium may not be obvious until the long-term when we have already done the damage to our bones leaving them with low bone mass leading to osteopenia or osteoporosis (a condition where the bones become porous and easily fractured/broken).
CALCIUM IN DAIRY
Dairy is such a heavily commercialised and advertised “food group” commonly promoted to support healthy bones and teeth through the calcium it provides, and is commonly advertised towards growing children and the elderly. Dairy is also commonly advertised to consumers for its adequate levels of protein it provides. Dairy products also contain phosphorus and magnesium, which are also needed for healthy bones.
But what are the health implications from regular consumption of dairy, and can we consume our optimal calcium and protein needs from elsewhere?
Studies suggest that the protein component of dairy promotes weight loss due to proteins ability to increase satiety, repair and build muscle whilst preventing excess kilojoule intake. This is all true about protein, in fact, protein even supports our immune system, mood and hormone production, and it is essential that we are consuming enough protein throughout our day. However, it is possible to consume our protein intake elsewhere, whilst choosing protein that has fewer negative implications to our health when consumed regularly.
Many sources of dairy are very high in saturated fats (think butter, cheese, cream), which actually leads to an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease such as high levels of cholesterol, inflammation, weight gain and an increased risk of coronary heart disease.
Casein, the main protein found in dairy has demonstrated to increase mucus production, elevate the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes as well as trigger histamine release which can ultimately trigger asthma in asthmatic patients. Often, eliminating dairy from one’s diet who is prone to asthma can result in great symptom relief.
Casein produces mucus in the gastrointestinal tract, which can cause an overproduction of mucus, leading to inflammation. When our immune systems are down and fighting off sickness, dairy consumption is something we want to avoid, along with when we are under chronic stress.
Dairy products increase Insulin-Like-Growth-Factor-1 (ILGF-1), which is a hormone that is correlated with the pathogenesis of acne, and acne severity. ILGF-1 is also linked to the development and progression of certain cancers due to its ability to promote cell growth (in normal and cancer cells).
Individuals who are lactose intolerant may experience abdominal pain, diarrhoea or other intestinal issues after consuming dairy products.
Certain health conditions such as arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma sufferers and skin conditions may improve when avoiding or eliminating dairy.
If you are looking for a less harmful form of dairy and not willing or interested to give up or reduce dairy intake, opting for sheep or goats milk may be a better choice, along with choosing A2 milk.
Now that’s not to say that swapping dairy such as cows’ milk for plant-based milks is necessarily the right option to ensure optimal calcium intake. The calcium ratio between cows’ milk and plant-based milk is definitely not 1-1. When choosing store bought plant milks, we need to be checking the labels to determine whether the milk has been fortified with calcium. We also need to be making sure we are choosing high quality plant-based milks, that is, with limited additives such as sugars and sweeteners.
Other plant-based sources of CALCIUM include:
Fortified plant milks
Green leafy vegetables
Bok Choy/Pak Choy
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