People, in general, are not overly educated when it comes to nutritional information. Yes, some people are highly educated. And some people are completely and thoroughly ignorant. But the vast majority of people know something about nutrition, but not too much. This is to be expected – we can’t all be experts at everything! The vast majority of people don’t know much about electrical engineering either.
With that being said, there are a frustrating number of people who think they know everything there is to know about nutrition because they recently read and article published in their favorite guilty pleasure magazine, or watched Dr. Oz yesterday.
As a Vegan, there are three things I hear regularly:
- I hope you’re getting enough protein…
- What about Calcium? Aren’t you worried about osteoporosis?
- But…cheese. I can’t live without cheese.
Protein will come in a later post…perhaps one dedicated to the letter P (wink, wink). The main topic today is Calcium, as you may have guessed, and cheese will make a cameo, but will be better addressed tomorrow, when I talk about dairy.
All my non-Vegan readers, I have a question for you: how do you get calcium in your diet?
Milk, right? More specifically, dairy, I suppose. The media over the past 20+ years has done an incredible job of making us all believe that dairy is the #1 and only reliable way to make sure we have enough calcium to keep our bones strong.
Now, if I were to ask my Vegan readers the same question, their answer might look a little something more like this:
- Green leafy vegetables like kale, spinach, collard greens, arugula, chard, mustard greens, turnip greens…(40-240 mg per cup)
- Tofu & Soy products, especially when fortified with calcium or made with calcium sulfate (120 – 750 mg per 4 oz)
- Broccoli (180 mg per cup)
- Squash (90 mg per cup)
- Beans (50-100 mg per cup)
- Fruits (50-300 mg per cup)
- Vegetables (10+ mg per cup)
- Grains (50-200 mg per serving)
- Nuts & Seeds (50 – 280 mg per oz)
- Tahini (130 mg per oz)
Calcium content estimates courtesy of UCSF Medical Center
Now you know all the various ways you can get Calcium into your body, but aside from “does the body good,” do you really know what Calcium does for you?
Well, first of all, it is the most abundant mineral in our bodies, as it is key component of our bones, including our teeth. As we go through life, our bones are broken down. This happens every minute of every day and we cannot stop it. Calcium, however, helps to rebuild them. It is a completely natural process.
In addition to our bone health, however, Calcium plays a critical role in other bodily functions and operations, such as nerve signal transmission, hormone release, muscle contraction, blood vessel function and blood clotting. It has also been shown to help reduce blood pressure – likely through keeping our body functioning properly! – and may also help prevent certain cancers, such as prostate and colon cancer. (WebMD)
Adults under the age of 70 only need 1000-1300 mg of Calcium per day. Contrary to some opinions – including that of the Mayo Clinic – if you engage in regular, plant-based eating habits you should have no trouble making those daily requirements. They key here is to make sure you have a HEALTHY plant-based diet. There are a lot of unhealthy Vegans and Vegetarians out there who subsist mainly on junk food and processed food. There is a lot of really crappy vegan foods in this world, just as there are crappy non-vegan foods. We all need to be making plant-based – aka fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes – eating decisions for our health!
BUT there is one more important piece to the Calcium puzzle, and that is absorption. It is one thing to make sure you intake enough calcium throughout your day. It is another to ensure your body and bones can actually absorb it, instead of just letting your kidneys freak out and send this mineral packing through your pee. Or worse, creating kidney stones out of the excess calcium…
In order to properly absorb Calcium, you also need an adequate supply of vitamin D, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, magnesium, and boron (eMedicineHealth). Luckily, once again a plant-based diet comes to the rescue! While dairy products do not typically have sufficient levels of each of these items to help your body absorb the levels of calcium it provides, plant-based sources of calcium generally do, especially when you vary the sources. Vitamin D is unique, in that our biggest source of this particular vitamin is the sun! Get outside and soak in some rays – not too much, and without sunscreen on. Before you start accusing me of trying to give you skin cancer, please reference this page by Dr. Mercola: How Much Sunshine Does it Take to Make Enough Vitamin D? Perhaps More Than You Think!
One final word of advice: exercise also helps the body absorb calcium.
Being healthy is a complete lifestyle journey. Choosing the right foods to fuel your day will make an immense impact on your health, but it must also be supplemented by exercise. There is no easy button in life. But there are ways to have fun and maximize your enjoyment!