It might be a surprise to many but eating food with calcium in it actually brings you very few benefits. Even dairy products, which are the best in providing your body with the mineral, bring you only about 30% of their calcium content. That’s only one of the reasons why calcium deficiency is so common. This fact also proves the necessity of taking supplements to get enough of the element into you.
Reasons Why Eating Food with Calcium in It Does NOT Work
Calcium metabolism is an extremely complicated biochemical process that involves several hormones. The important thing to understand is that this mineral circulates through your body all the time. Although only a very small amount of it is present in your blood as 99% of calcium makes up your bones and teeth.
When your body needs extra calcium, it literally pulls it from your bones. However, it’s partially restored right away. Therefore, the actual loss of bone mass occurs only when the level of calcium you get from other sources is too low.
When this happens, your body releases more parathyroid hormone (PTH), which increases the loss of mineral from bone. That should be your cue to start eating more food with calcium in it. However, this might not be enough to help.
On one hand, the increased level of PTH reduces the loss of calcium through urine and stimulates the production of calcitriol. The latter increases the body’s ability to absorb calcium naturally.
The issue here is that in order for all those processes to happen, you need vitamin D. This element is literally what calcitriol is made from. The tremendous effect that it has on calcium metabolism is the main reason why you need vitamin D in your diet.
Unfortunately, vitamin D deficiency interferes with the levels of blood serum calcium way too much to measure the calcium requirements. This means that issues with vitamin D might ‘mask’ a calcium deficiency. On the other hand, they might be the reason why eating food with calcium in it doesn’t help to solve the problem. In fact, hypercalcaemia (increased level of calcium in blood) carries as many health risks as not getting enough calcium does.
How to Boost the Effects of Eating Food with Calcium in It
To determine how much calcium you get from food and prevent any risky deficiencies you must understand calcium bioavailability.
The bioavailability is the amount of calcium you can ‘potentially’ absorb from a product. Note the ‘potentially’ in that sentence as your PTH and calcitriol levels will affect your gut’s absorption abilities.
Food with calcium in it that has the highest levels of absorption (30-50%) includes:
- Dairy products
- Calcium-fortified products
Only about 20-25% of the calcium in legumes is bioavailable and 20% in seeds. Note that broccoli, kale, and bok choy actually have absorption levels of 50%. However, other vegetables, have less than 10%. The reason for this is that veggies contain a different form of calcium that’s much harder for the body to break down.
One of the reasons why milk and dairy are considered the best type of food with calcium in it is that lactose boosts its bioavailability. However, even with this ‘extra kick’, you’ll actually get less than a half of the calcium content offered by a glass of milk. Technically, all calcium that a person with an average American diet gets from food, only makes up for the loss of mineral through urine. This means that no matter how hard you try, eating calcium-rich food just isn’t enough, especially if you are lactose intolerant.
The good news is that you can make get the extra dose of calcium you need to treat or prevent deficiency from supplements. There are many types of those available, so consult your healthcare provider to choose one that suits you best. For example, Coral Calcium with Vitamin D3 is ionized, so it’s easier to absorb and Calcium & Magnesium also contains magnesium, which strengthens the calcium bonds in bones.