Nutrition Challenge Week #2
By: Crystal Flores, Registered Dietician
Okay Boot Campers, we have all heard about the importance of calcium for strong teeth and bones, but did you know that is only the tip of the iceberg? We need calcium for normal blood clotting, maintaining a normal blood pressure, nerve transmission, enzymes and hormones to regulate digestion, fat and energy metabolism as well as the production of saliva. Calcium aids in the transport of nutrients and other substances across cell membranes. It works with magnesium in muscle contraction and it is very important to have a balance between calcium, sodium, potassium and magnesium to maintain muscle tone. Possible benefits of calcium include protection from colon cancer, lowering blood cholesterol as well as fat metabolism and weight loss.
So, let’s get technical here for a moment. We absorb calcium in the small intestine with the help of vitamin D. Only about 10-40% of the calcium we consume is absorbed. That large range is due to a decreased absorption when we have an excessive intake of oxalates and phytates, presence of fiber in the diet, a high intake of fat, alcohol, coffee, sugar, diuretics and aluminum-containing antacids and…stress! What are oxalates and phytates you ask? These are naturally occurring substances in plants and animals. Oxalates are abundant in leafy green vegetables, soy products, almonds, peanuts, quinoa, black tea and wheat germ to name a few. Phytates are antioxidants found in whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. In other words, these are both present in a healthy diet. It’s amazing we absorb any! Good news, we absorb more in times of great need, such as lactation and pregnancy.
A diet high in protein helps to increase absorption and so does the presence of lactose. An acidic environment and vitamin D are also important. The best sources in our diet are from dairy products due to the high calcium content, presence of lactose (milk sugar) and vitamin D. Another great source we don’t think of often is canned fish with the bones. Other good sources include enriched soy products, enriched almond/coconut/rice milk, dark-green leafy vegetables, broccoli, beans and peas.
How much calcium do we need? All women between 19 and 50 years of age need 1000 mg of calcium daily. This includes both pregnant and/or lactating women. Three to four servings of high calcium foods daily meets our needs. Take a look at the nutrition facts panel on your food. The calcium is listed at the bottom as a percentage. This percentage is based on 1000 mg of calcium. Perfect! So if it says 30%, this is 300 of your daily 1000 mg.