Looking beyond the dairy aisle for one of the body’s most crucial nutrients
Did you know that calcium is the most plentiful mineral in the human body? Found in many different foods, it’s a very important and common nutrient—but the majority of Americans do not get enough. A recent survey found that only 16 percent of women aged 20 to 29 get their recommended daily dose of 1,000 mg per day.
Part of the reason for this may be the sources of calcium that Americans are most familiar with. Milk, long revered as a source of calcium, is full of fat, sugar and animal protein, and so are the many dairy products made from it. Because of this, many patients of medical weight loss or OPTIFAST meal replacement programs may steer clear of dairy, afraid of gaining weight from these fatty foods.
However, these dairy-ditching dieters may not realize the abundance of other foods that are great sources of calcium, many of which mesh perfectly with a diet focused on weight loss, good health and proper nutrition. To reap the healthy rewards of calcium without the diet-busting detriments, you may just need to explore some new sources of this vital nutrient.
Calcium for Whole Body Health
Though it may be best known for its important role in maintaining healthy bones and teeth, calcium has myriad benefits that go beyond your skeletal system. Calcium helps to prevent insulin resistance (a frequent precursor to Type 2 diabetes), regulate blood pressure and keep your blood vessels healthy. These benefits can be a big help to anyone, but may be particularly helpful in those who struggle with excess weight and the many comorbid problems it can create.
Dairy may have become the primary source of calcium for so many because dairy products also often contain vitamin D, which your body needs to process and absorb calcium. However, legumes, seafood, leafy greens and many fruits also contain calcium naturally, while many more foods and beverages are fortified with it.
If skipping the dairy aisle has become part of your supermarket routine, think about making a pit stop to keep your calcium levels high with some of these non-dairy sources—just be sure you’re getting the vitamin D your body needs to absorb it.
- Kale. This leafy green can be the start of a perfect salad or side dish, but is also packed full of calcium at nearly 10 percent daily value per cup. One of the healthiest vegetables around, kale is also packed with over 45 different flavonoids—antioxidants that help to prevent inflammation and oxidative damage to the body’s cells—and tons of vitamin K (1327.6 percent daily value per cup), vitamin A (354.1 percent daily value per cup), vitamin C (88.8 percent daily value per cup) and more.
- Sardines. Despite their canned and salty reputation, sardines are one of the healthiest fish in the sea. Like most fish, they’re packed with omega-3 fatty acids, but 3.2 ounces will also give you over 34 percent of your daily value of calcium and 43 percent of your daily vitamin D. As an added bonus, you’ll get 135 percent of your daily vitamin B12, 68 percent of your daily selenium and a significant chunk of your daily protein (over 44 percent).
- Seaweed. Though this veggie may be leafy green and come from the sea, it shares another similarity with the two great foods listed above: a high calcium concentration. You’ll get about 13 percent of your daily calcium value from just one cup of raw seaweed, while you’ll also get tons of fiber and the iodine your body needs to keep its thyroid functioning properly. A versatile and tasty addition to many recipes, seaweed can be used in a number of ways that make it easy to add a little calcium to your diet.
Of course, these aren’t the only alternative sources of calcium out there. Calcium can be found in many legumes like black-eyed peas and white beans, other leafy green veggies like bok choy and turnip greens, dried figs, sesame seeds, almond and oranges. With so many delicious and nutritious sources of calcium out there, there’s no excuse to miss your daily value of this important nutrient.