By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 11 December 2008)
Calcium plays a critical role in physical health, mood, and overall brain functioning. Calcium is particularly effective in helping to prevent osteoporosis and other health problems when taken in conjunction with vitamins and minerals that aid its absorption and overall efficacy.
Natural Calcium Sources
The foods highest in calcium (at least 275 mg per serving) are:
- Swiss cheese
- Plain yogurt
- Sesame seeds
The next-best calcium sources, with 165 mg of calcium or more per serving, are:
- Other cheeses
- Flavoured yogurt
- Canned salmon
Other calcium sources (55 mg or more per serving) include:
- Cottage cheese
- Canned or cooked legumes such as beans
- Certain dark leafy greens (such as turnip greens, mustard greens, kale, and broccoli)
- Cooked oysters and scallops
- Sunflower seeds
Milk is often touted as the best source of calcium, but this isn’t always the case. Societies that get their calcium primarily through plant sources have lower rates of osteoporosis than the U.S. and Canada, where dairy product consumption is high. Of course, many different dietary and lifestyle factors may contribute to this finding, but there are a number of reasons why milk is not always the best calcium source:
- 15% of Caucasians and 40% of the world’s population overall cannot digest lactose.
- In the U.S., many dairy cows are given bovine growth hormone to increase milk production, and throughout North America, a large number of cows are injected with steroids or antibiotics.
- Although milk has a higher calcium content per serving, a recent study found that calcium absorption from milk was just 32%, compared to 40%-64% from certain vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, mustard greens, turnip greens, and kale.
If using milk as a calcium source, choose low-fat, organic dairy products to maximize health benefits while minimizing health risks.
If using leafy greens as a calcium source, keep in mind that some leafy greens, such as chard, beet greens, and spinach, contain oxalic acid, which interferes with the absorption of calcium. These vegetables are worth eating because they provide many other important nutrients, but they are not good sources of calcium. However, oxalic acid is reduced by cooking.
Other Micronutrients That Boost Calcium’s Health Benefits
To prevent bone loss and promote overall mental and physical health, calcium works in conjunction with other micronutrients. Key elements in the osteoporosis-fighting team include:
- Magnesium – Vital for a large number of bodily processes – Natural sources include peanuts, nuts, whole grains, beans and peas, soy products, dark green vegetables, potatoes, oranges, white fish, chicken, and beef.
- Vitamin K – Helps prevent bone degradation and may lower risk of fractures – Natural sources include green leafy vegetables, soybean oil, cottonseed oil, canola oil, and olive oil (choose non-hydrogenated oils, as hydrogenation may decrease vitamin K absorption).
- Zinc – Works with calcium to build bones – Natural sources include seafood (such as oysters, lobster, flounder, and sole), nuts and seeds, beef, pork, chicken, beans, peas, yogurt, oatmeal, fortified cereals, brewer’s yeast, and wheat germ.
- Vitamins B12 (cobalamin), B9 (folic acid), and B6 (pyridoxine) – Aid calcium absorption – Natural sources include meat, dairy, eggs, brewer’s yeast, cereal grains, and certain vegetables (such as peas, broccoli, carrots, and potatoes).
- Vitamin D – Aids calcium absorption and helps prevent obesity – Natural sources include cod liver oil, mackerel, tuna, sardines, fortified milk and dairy products, fortified cereals, eggs, and beef liver.
- Silicon – Deficiency may cause bone and connective tissue abnormalities, as well as hair loss, brittle nails, rapidly aging skin, and poor bone development – Natural sources include oats, wine, high-fibre grains, nuts and seeds, oranges, cherries, raisins, almonds, peanuts, onions, raw cabbage, carrots, endive, eggplant, pumpkin, beets, celery, cucumber, honey, fish, corn, and apples.
- Manganese – Aids mineral metabolism – Natural sources include bran, bananas, egg yolks, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, liver, milk, legumes, nuts, shellfish, and pineapple.
- Strontium – Aids healthy development of skeletal systems – Natural sources include most plant-based foods and Brazil nuts.
- Boron – Helps calcium and magnesium metabolism, increases production of estrogen and testosterone – Natural sources include leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts, raisins/grapes, pears, prunes, tomatoes, and apples.
- Copper – Critical to healthy bone formation – Natural sources include liver, whole grains, almonds, hazelnuts, peas, leafy green vegetables, olives, brewer’s yeast, most seafoods, cherries, dark chocolate, soybeans, and tofu.
- Lycopene – Helps prevent bone diseases and maintain bone strength – Natural sources include certain red and pink foods such as tomatoes, watermelon, red berries, beets, and pink grapefruit.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Enhance brain power, mood, and bone building – The best natural sources are oily seafoods such as salmon, sardines, tuna, herring, mackerel, and anchovies.
To preserve bone health, eat a diet rich in these vitamins and minerals and engage in weight-bearing exercise.
Calcium and Other Micronutrients Play a Role in Attention and Mood
Calcium and other micronutrients are not only critical to physical health and osteoporosis prevention, they also play an important role in attention and mood. Many people who suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and anxiety disorders have found vitamin and mineral supplementation beneficial, particularly calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B supplements.
Some vitamins and minerals can interact adversely with certain medications and are toxic in large doses. Always consult a health care provider before taking vitamin or mineral supplements.
For more health articles, see the main Mind/Body Health page.
This article is not intended as a substitute for medical consultation or care. Health concerns should be referred to a qualified medical practitioner.
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- Oregon State University – Linus Pauling Institute. (2008). “Vitamin K,” “Vitamin B12). Lpi.oregonstate.edu.
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