Our bodies are composed of very complex systems that work together to ensure proper bodily functions. We consume foods that serve to fuel our body with energy to carry out metabolic tasks, and also provide nutrients that serve to maintain and enhance the functioning of different body components and systems. One essential nutrient that is very important and is often overlooked is calcium.
What is calcium? Quite simply, calcium is mineral. Out of all the minerals contained in our bodies, calcium is stored in highest abundance. Although calcium can be found in our blood and stored in our muscles, it’s generally stored almost entirely in our teeth and bones.
By breaking down this mineral further, we can see how important it truly is and why it’s an essential nutrient. Calcium has the primary function of developing and maintaining the health of our bones. A proper intake of calcium is necessary in our diet to ensure adequate bone structure. This mineral also facilitates the secretion of various hormones and enzymes, plays a vital role in muscle contraction, and is necessary for the proper functioning of nerve transmissions throughout the nervous system.
A diet low in calcium overtime increases the likelihood of some health complications. This includes an increased risk of hypertension, colon cancer, and osteoporosis. The latter is especially a higher risk for post-menopausal women, who require a higher intake of calcium due to less exposure to estrogen and its protective effects against osteoporosis.
Daily calcium requirements vary, as it depends on your age and other factors. For instance, people with Crohn’s or celiac disease may require extra calcium, due to their condition interfering with their body’s calcium absorption efficiency. In general, here is an overview of recommended daily intakes for calcium, considering an individual’s different stages of life:
- 0 to 6 months: 200 milligrams (mg)
- 7 months to 1 year: 260 mg
- 1 to 3 years: 700 mg
- 4 to 8 years: 1,000 mg
- 9 to 18 years: 1,300 mg
- 19 to 70 years: 1,000 mg
- 71 years and older: 1,200 mg
- Women 19 to 50 years: 1,000 mg
- Women 51 years and older: 1,200 mg
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women under age 19: 1,300 mg
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women over age 19: 1,000 mg
Although a diet with an adequate calcium intake is ideal, that’s not enough on its own. A diet balanced with proper protein and Vitamin D intake is also necessary, as those nutrients will assist the absorption of calcium into bones.
Now that you know what calcium is and are aware of its importance, you may be wondering how and where you can consume the calcium your body needs. Fortunately, there are plenty of food options that are great sources of calcium. Dairy products are an excellent source, as they contain the mineral in high abundance. Cheese, yogurt, and milk are great choices, the latter especially as very often milk is fortified with vitamin D. Spinach and kale are leafy vegetables that not only contain calcium, but many other vitamins and minerals.
Also, very often you will find products such as juices and cereals that are fortified with calcium. Additionally, if you require more calcium than you can consume through food alone, there are calcium supplements such as calcium citrate and carbonate that can be acquired at any nearby health shop or supermarket. There is no shortage of options here.
By increasing your calcium intake and meeting the requirement in your diet, there is also some evidence that suggests certain health benefits and reduced risk of some chronic diseases. However, researchers have determined more studies are needed before a conclusion can be made in this regard.
Having said that, so far it’s widely accepted by researchers that people with calcium deficiency are at an increased risk of high blood pressure, and conditions such as osteoporosis. Furthermore, individuals with an adequate calcium intake have a reduced risk of weight gain, stroke, and colon cancer.Also, a recent study done in Sweden that included 23,000 male participants over a nine-year period has shown that a diet higher in calcium did lower the risk of certain chronic conditions.
Evidently, it’s not only beneficial to experiment with a higher calcium intake in your diet, it may be a practice to seriously consider, for all the health benefits it provides.