It's common knowledge that we all need calcium, everyone knows it helps with healthy teeth and strong bones. Did you know calcium is also what makes your muscles move? Muscle contraction is regulated by calcium, and too much or too little can result in pins and needles, or even cramps. Aside from this calcium also helps your blood clot properly if you get a cut or injury, and it helps to maintain good blood pressure throughout your body.
0-6 months: 200mg
7-12 months: 260mg
1-3 years: 700mg
4-8 years: 1000mg
9-18 years: 1300mg
Adult men (51-70 years): 1000mg
Adult women (51-70 years): 1200mg
71+ years: 1200mg
Calcium is also a key electrolyte, and if your level of calcium drops too low your body secretes parathyroid hormone to increase your useable calcium and phosphate, and in order to do this it has to leech from your body's stored calcium in your bones and teeth! Creating a loss in bone density.
I decided to put together this blog post because many people consume below the daily recommended intake (RDI) of calcium, and we often have people contacting us how they can reach their RDI if they don't drink milk. The thing is, you don't actually need traditional dairy to reach your RDI of calcium, and as you'll see on the graph below, regular cow's milk is surprisingly low in calcium compared to some of the other sources you could be consuming.
Groups of people who are likely to be low in calcium include:
- Post-menopausal women because they are experiencing a loss in bone density;
- People with lactose intolerance;
- People on a plant-based diet who don't substitute dairy for other high calcium foods; and
- Women of childbearing age who do not get their periods or have them infrequently (whether it's from a low body fat percentage, PCOS, or otherwise).
So what are the general symptoms of calcium deficiency?
- Sleep problems (calcium helps to produce melatonin which will result in better sleep);
- Difficulty with losing weight; and/or
- Paresthesia (tingling, numbness and poor memory)
There are also extreme symptoms of calcium deficiency, which include:
- Memory loss;
- Muscle spasms and cramps;
- Brittle bones;
- Hallucinations; and/or
- Weak/brittle nails.
There are also a few conditions which can inhibit how much calcium your body is willing to absorb. One of these is age, as you get older the rate at which your body can absorb calcium decreases. Another is Vitamin D intake. If your body is not receiving enough Vitamin D (10~ minutes exposure per day) it will not be able to absorb calcium efficiently. And occasionally other components in food can inhibit your absorption. This is not for everybody, but in some individuals poor timing of phytic acid (found in wholegrains) and oralic acid (in beans and some vegetables) can stop the body from absorbing or processing calcium correctly.
So where can you find your calcium? Check the graph below for our suggestions, as well as some alternatives to the regular dairy! Some of these foods you wouldn't consume 100g of in one sitting, but this is to show an even comparison.
Zemel, M 2004, 'Role of calcium and dairy products in energy partitioning and weight management', American Society for Clinical Nutrition, vol. 79, no. 5, pp. 9075-9125.
Chaturehdi, P et al 2013, 'Comparison of calcium absorption from various calcium containing products in healthy human adults: a bioavailability study', The FASEB Journal, vol. 20.
Langsetmo, L et al 2013, 'Calcium and vitamin D intake and mortality: results from the Canadian multicentre osteoporisis study (CIAMOS)', The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, vol. 98, no. 7.
Hwang, G et al 2012, 'Micronutrient deficiencies in inflammatory bowel diseases: from A to Zinc', Inflammatory Bowel Disease, vol. 18.
Straus, D 2007, 'Calcium supplementation in clinical practice: a review of form, doses and indications', Nutrition in Clinical Practice, vol. 22, pp. 286.