Welcome everybody to More Than Healthy as we continue to share our weekly health tips. This is Tip #71, the health benefits of the right amount of calcium.
Pretty much everyone knows that calcium is important. This is not new news to my clients. But what they seem to struggle with is how much they should be getting, what the best sources of calcium are, and how they know if they are getting enough.
Calcium is crucial for more than just bone health
Although most people know that calcium is an important mineral for strong bones and teeth, they don’t realize all of the other important functions it plays in our health.
Calcium is responsible for many important functions in the body. Did you know that calcium plays an important role in blood clotting, helping muscles contract, and regulating normal heart rhythms and nerve functions? About 99% of the body’s calcium is stored in the bones, and the remaining 1% is found in blood, muscle, and other tissues.
Our bodies do not produce calcium, so we have to get it from our food and supplements. If the body doesn’t have enough calcium, it will pull it from our bones. If you don’t replenish that calcium, then your bones get weaker.
The calcium balancing act
Here’s how this works: The body keeps a steady amount of calcium in the blood and tissues. If calcium levels drop too low in the blood, then the parathyroid hormone (PTH) will signal the bones to release calcium into the bloodstream. It also signals the kidneys to release less calcium in the urine.
The PTH hormone may also activate vitamin D to improve the absorption of calcium in the intestines. That’s one reason vitamin D is so important to calcium absorption (read more about the importance of vitamin D here). Even if you’re getting enough calcium, if you don’t have enough vitamin D, then your body won’t be able to absorb it.
When the body has enough calcium, a different hormone called calcitonin works to do the opposite: it lowers calcium levels in the blood by stopping the release of calcium from bones and signaling the kidneys to rid more of it in the urine.
Ideally, that “borrowed” calcium that the body leaches from the bones will be replaced at some point. But, that doesn’t always happen, and it can’t always happen through eating more calcium. So it’s important to try and maintain healthy calcium levels from the get-go.
That’s why it’s a balancing act when it comes to vitamins and minerals. You want the right amount of calcium – plenty for good health, but not too much, as that will cause a whole host of problems.
Important health benefits of the right amount of calcium
We’ll talk about how to know if you’re getting proper amounts of calcium, as well as good calcium sources, later. First, let’s talk about some of our favorite health benefits of the right amount of calcium.
Benefit #1: The right amount of calcium keeps bones strong
It’s no surprise that strong bones are the first benefit of the right amount of calcium. If you’ve followed us here at More Than Healthy, you know we talk about this a lot. I have a family history of osteoporosis and osteopenia, so I’m super vigilant about anything that helps with bone density.
What is osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is extremely common, affecting 1 in 5 women aged 50 and over. (Men are also affected, but not as often as women are, with 1 in 20 men over age 50 having osteoporosis.)
The word osteoporosis means “porous bone” and is a bone disease that causes the bones to become weak. As bones become less dense, they weaken and may break from a fall, or, in serious cases, even a minor bump, or even a sneeze.
These broken bones can potentially be very dangerous. They can lead to chronic pain and disability. These breaks can be the reason an older loved one can no longer live on their own. Bones that break the most often include wrists, hips, and spine. Fractures in the hip and spine are especially dangerous and life-altering.
Be proactive in preventing osteoporosis
Thankfully, there are many things you can do to keep your bones strong as you age, even with a family history of these diseases. We’ve done posts on many of the things I do to keep my bones healthy. Check out the following to learn more:
- The Health Benefits of the Right Amount of Potassium
- The Health Benefits of Vibration Therapy
- The Health Benefits of Strength Training
- The Health Benefits of Getting Enough Sunshine
- The Health Benefits of Getting the Right Amount of Magnesium
- The Health Benefits of Fermented Foods
- The Health Benefits of the Right Amount of Vitamin A
- Increase Vitamin D to Healthy Levels
I am doing things every single day to improve my bone density. And, my Dexa Body scans show it’s working. Five years ago, I started getting regular scans. I had a bone density of 1.4. Any positive score is good, so this was a decent score. (A score of -1.0 – -2.5 is osteopenia, and anything over -2.5 is osteoporosis.)
My last scan showed that my bone density is now 2.2. Even though I’m now six years older than when my score was 1.4, my bone density has significantly improved! And David’s bone density scores are improving as well. Being proactive about our health really does work!
Benefit #2: The right amount of calcium helps regulate muscle contraction
This benefit is more important than you might think. Muscle contraction is vital to our ability to move. At all. In addition to movement, muscle contraction also affects our posture, joint stability, and the body’s ability to produce heat. (Did you know that nearly 85% of the heat produced in the body is the result of muscle contraction? Pretty interesting stuff.)
When an electrical impulse from a neuron stimulates the muscle fiber, the body releases calcium. The calcium helps the proteins carry out the work of contraction. The muscle will relax when the body pumps the calcium out of the muscle.
This means your body needs calcium whenever you need to use your muscles to move, pick up something heavy, or simply lift a grandchild into your lap. Like I said, it’s pretty darn important!
If you are deficient in calcium, you will literally get weaker. You’ll experience more aches, pains, stiffness, cramps, and spasms. You could also have pain in the thighs and arms when walking or moving or numbness and tingling in the hands, arms, feet, legs, and around the mouth.
Benefit #3: The right amount of calcium helps brain cognition and lowers stress/anxiety
This benefit of calcium might surprise you a bit. But having the right amount of calcium contributes to good brain cognition and helps to lower stress and anxiety levels.
Studies show that if your cells are being deprived of calcium, you can encounter a range of negative cognitive symptoms, everything from brain fog to dizziness and confusion Alzheimer’s is now linked to low calcium levels. Impaired focus, memory loss, and fatigue can also occur. There is also evidence suggesting that calcium intake affects our mental health.
Calcium and the brain
It’s believed that calcium deficiency causes these symptoms, because calcium is critical for proper nerve cell function. And since the average brain has around 86 billion neurons, those nerve cells do a lot of functioning!
One study involved 1,233 college students. Each participant completed a survey to rate their stress and anxiety. Then they increased their calcium intake. The study noted that as the calcium intake increased, the relationship between perceived stress and anxiety weakened, as did the relationship between perceived stress and negative mood. Study results found that increasing calcium intake yields improved mental health outcomes.
Another study done in Italy observed that lower blood calcium levels were associated with worse visuo-spatial attention, semantic memory, and executive function. They determined that calcium performs a number of critical functions in the brain, and that patients with low calcium levels displayed cognitive symptoms.
Benefit #4: The right amount of calcium improves cardiovascular health
An additional powerful health benefit is the right amount of calcium can help regulate blood pressure and improve cardiovascular health.
Calcium affects blood pressure because it relaxes the smooth muscle that surrounds your blood vessels. Various studies link calcium and lower blood pressure.
Studies show that calcium also plays a key role in blood clotting. The process of blood clotting is complex; there are many steps and it involves a range of chemicals. One of which is calcium. Appropriate clotting of the blood is very important to our health. We need just the right amount to help control bleeding. Too much leads to serious problems, such as pulmonary embolism and heart attack.
David and I are always looking for ways to improve our heart health. At one time, tests showed that David was 5 times more likely to have a heart attack than other men his age. That was a scary statistic for us! But in the last seven years, we’ve worked hard to decrease that statistic; making sure we get the right amount of calcium is no exception.
How much calcium do I need?
Calcium needs vary by age and sometimes by gender. The Office of Dietary Supplements suggests the following recommendations for calcium:
- 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
- 19–50 years: 1,000 mg
- 51–70 years: 1,000 mg for males and 1,200 mg for females
- 71 years and above: 1,200 mg
Best sources of calcium
Now that we’ve talked about both the risk of not getting enough and the benefits of the right amount, let’s talk about some of the best sources of calcium.
Of course, the highest sources of calcium are in dairy products. Yogurt, milk, buttermilk, sour cream, soy milk, cottage cheese, ice cream, and most of your cheeses have the highest calcium content per serving. You may want to check out our post, The Skinny on Why You Need Full Fat Dairy, to learn why we recommend full-fat dairy products.
What might surprise you is how much calcium is in some vegetables like broccoli, spinach, arugula, bok choy, chard, or kale, or in fruits like figs and kiwis. And, because of the information I’ll explain below, some of these might actually be the best sources of calcium.
Calcium and Bioavailability
Before you look at the Calcium Food Sources chart, it’s helpful to understand calcium bioavailability.
Calcium is a large mineral. It’s not super easy to break it down in the gut. The amount of calcium listed on a food label is a measure of the calcium in the food. But it’s not necessarily the amount the body can absorb.
The amount of calcium the body can actually absorb and use is called “calcium bioavailability.” And some foods have more of that than others.
Foods in the dairy section have a bioavailability of about 30%. So if milk has 300 mg of calcium per cup, only about 100 mg of that will be absorbed and used by the body.
Plant foods contain less calcium overall, but they have a higher bioavailability than dairy. Let’s take bok choy as an example. Cooked bok choy has about 160 mg of calcium per 1 cup. But its bioavailability is about 50%, so about 80 mg of calcium gets absorbed.
So, eating 1 cup of cooked bok choy has as much bioavailable calcium as 1 cup of milk. This is especially useful for those, like David, who cannot tolerate dairy, or people who follow a vegan diet.
There is a wide variety of sources of calcium. We’ve provided a list of sources for you below, and included bioavailability percentages where possible.
Calcium Content of Foods
|Milk (skim, low fat, whole)||1 cup||300 mg||32.1%|
|Buttermilk||1 cup||300 mg|
|Cottage Cheese||½ cup||65 mg|
|Sour Cream||1 cup||250 mg|
|Soy Milk (calcium fortified)||1 cup||200-400 mg||31.0%|
|Yogurt||1 cup||450 mg||32.1%|
|Yogurt Drink||12 oz.||300 mg||32.1%|
|Hard Cheese (cheddar, jack)||1 oz.||200 mg||32.0%|
|Mozzarella||1 oz.||200 mg||32.0%|
|Parmesan||1 oz.||70 mg|
|Swiss or Gruyere||1 oz.||270 mg||40.0%|
|Brie Cheese||1 oz.||50 mg||40.0%|
|Acorn Squash, cooked||1 cup||90 mg|
|Arugula, raw||1 cup||125 mg|
|Bok Choy, raw||1 cup||40 mg||53.8%|
|Broccoli, cooked||1 cup||180 mg||61.3%|
|Chard or Okra, cooked||1 cup||100 mg|
|Chicory, raw||1 cup||40 mg|
|Collard Greens||1 cup||50 mg|
|Kale, raw||1 cup||55 mg||49.3%|
|Spinach, cooked||1 cup||240 mg||25-35%|
|Mustard Greens||1 cup||40 mg||57.8%|
|Figs, dried, uncooked||1 cup||300 mg||20%|
|Kiwi, raw||1 cup||50 mg|
|Orange juice (calcium fortified)||8 oz.||300 mg||36.3%|
|Garbanzo Beans, cooked||1 cup||80 mg|
|Legumes, cooked||½ cup||15 to 50 mg|
|Pinto Beans, cooked||1 cup||75 mg||26.7%|
|Soybeans, boiled||½ cup||100 mg|
|Tofu, firm, calcium set||4 oz.||250 to 750 mg||31.0%|
|Tofu, soft, regular||4 oz.||120 to 390 mg||31.0%|
|White Beans, cooked||½ cup||70 mg||21.8%|
|Brown Rice, long grain, raw||1 cup||50 mg|
|Oatmeal, instant||1 package||100 to 150 mg|
|Corn Tortillas||2||85 mg|
|Almonds||1 oz.||80 mg||21.2%|
|Sesame Seeds, whole roasted||1 oz.||280 mg||20.8%|
|Sunflower Seeds, dried||1 oz.||50 mg|
|Sardines||3 oz.||370 mg|
|Mackerel, canned||3 oz.||250 mg|
|Salmon, canned||3 oz.||170 to 210 mg|
A note about fortified products
Fortified cereals and bread are on the list of high-calcium foods, but we don’t recommend them. We feel strongly that the small benefit you get from the calcium will be negated by the harm the processed foods cause. Read more about why to avoid processed foods here.
But there are many foods on the high-calcium list that give you lots more benefit than just the calcium. See if you can find ways to get more calcium into your diet through the foods you eat.
Also, you might want to check out our video where we show you how to make L Reuteri yogurt. Even though I make David’s with coconut milk since he is lactose intolerant, there are so many other minerals in it that support bone and muscle health that it’s also contributing to the improvement in our bone density.
How are your calcium levels?
If you don’t know if you’re getting enough calcium in your diet, then a great way to find out is with hair analysis testing, an amazing, informative service now offered at More Than Healthy.
With just a few strands of your hair, you receive a full report looking at toxins, nutrients, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, electromagnetic frequency exposure, chemicals, radiation, parasites, immune factors, and foods you should avoid.
Go to our website to learn more.You can schedule a local hair analysis or order it online to be mailed to you today.
The many health benefits of the right amount of calcium
Did you learn something you didn’t know about the benefits of calcium? We always love hearing from you. If you have have any questions, please reach out! We try to respond to all questions and comments on our social media pages (find us at @morethanhealthyliving).
Let’s work together to reclaim your health! We’d love to become your health coaches as you work to become “more than healthy” and achieve optimal health.
Thanks for joining us, and we’ll see you next week.
Note: Remember, we’re not doctors. We’re just sharing what’s worked for us on our health journey. You will want to consult your doctor before significantly changing your diet and supplementation.