Calcium

The best known role for calcium is that it is essential for bone health with 99% of calcium being stored in your bones/teeth. However, it is also required in the blood and is involved in cardiac function, releasing hormones such as insulin and in regulating the operation of your muscles, blood vessels and nerves. Unfortunately, most of the Australian population is consuming on average around 20% less than the recommended daily intakes, though worsening to nearly 50% less than the recommended intake in post-menopausal women and older men.

If you do not consume sufficient calcium, your body will take calcium from your bones to maintain adequate levels in the blood, this increases your chance of brittle bones – leading to fractures and osteoporosis. This is especially relevant for women who are particularly susceptible to low calcium levels post-menopause. Please note that there’s a lot of misinformation out there about dairy ‘acidifying the blood and leaching calcium out of your bones’. Be wary of any practitioners touting this nonsense as it illustrates a complete lack of understanding of basic chemistry and physiology and also please note that in the absence of an allergy, dairy does not cause inflammation either.

yoghurtLife Nutrition emphasises the importance of getting your vitamins and minerals from wholefoods where possible. For most of us, around 60% of our calcium comes from dairy products and so restricting these in the absence of a confirmed allergy or intolerance is problematic and highly increases your risk of deficiency.

Bioavailability (or how much calcium actually ends up being absorbed in your body) differs between foods and is reduced in those foods rich in oxalic acid (eg spinach, beans) or phytic acid (seeds, nuts, grains).

Calcium rich foods include:

  • Dairy – milk, cheese or yoghurt or fortified alternatives such as almond, soy, coconut, rice or oat milk – read our article here for more info. Fortification of milk-alternatives should be minimally 275-300mg of calcium/250ml serve and please note to regularly shake these milks during consumption as the calcium salts tend to settle on the bottom and are disproportionally discarded in the dregs.
  • Leafy or cruciferous greens – broccoli, kale, spinach etc
  • Tofu
  • Canned fish with bones (eg salmon or sardines) – note though that canned fish without bones are not a significant source of calcium
  • Beans and lentils
  • Other fortified products (less ideal than naturally occurring calcium in foods, but preferable to taking isolated calcium tablets)

Each day, you should be consuming the following amounts of calcium based on your gender/age:

calcium-table

Supplementation may be required if you cannot consume sufficient calcium for your age/gender via your diet, if you are vegan, if your diet is especially high in sodium and/or protein (as this increases the excretion of Ca) or if you have conditions such as Crohns disease where absorption may be negatively impacted.  Ideally, to maximise absorption – your supplements should be taken twice a day as – generally 2x500mg will be adequate for most.

Note that you should never take above your recommended intake as higher calcium supplement use has been associated with increased risk for prostate cancer, kidney stones and may have negative impacts on heart health. Supplementation can also interfere with other medications – if in doubt, please talk further about this with your pharmacist or doctor.

You need to be very careful with supplementation, especially if there is suspected deficiency in iron, magnesium or zinc as these minerals compete with calcium for digestion/absorption. Try to take your supplements at a time when you are not consuming foods rich in these other minerals, though noting that if you take calcium supplements on an empty stomach this can also cause irritation/digestive upset – so it’s advisable to take your supplements with some food. If you tend to have digestive issues or irritable bowel syndrome, ensure that any supplements/fortified foods contain calcium citrate as this is the supplemental form least likely to cause side effects such as pain, gas or bloating.

  • Note that sometimes supplements may list the calcium in ‘mmol’ units – if so, 1mmol of Calcium = 40mg so you’d be looking for a supplement of around 12.5mmol to be equivalent to a 500mg calcium dose. As your pharmacist for help if required!

Blending vs Juicing – does either live up to the hype?

Recently, blending and juicing have been very popular with many believing that the pulverizing or extraction processes better ‘release’ the micronutrients from your fruits, vegetables or nuts to allow more efficient absorption. Others believe that such liquids – especially when green and containing expensive ‘superfood’ powders or herbs – become magical concoctions which can ‘detox’ you and aid in weight loss.

However, what is the truth in all this and if you are keen to give it a try – is blending or juicing better?

Firstly, allow me to deal with the ‘detox’ claims as that’s fairly straightforward and our recent article To detox or not to detox? deals with this question in depth. However, in summary – no, there is no scientific basis or clinical evidence that nutritional ‘detoxing’ is required or effective.  The best way to maximise the function of your natural detoxification system, is to provide your body with optimal nutrition in the long-term. Most detox diets are low in proteins or amino acids, fibre, probiotics and ‘good fats’ – unfortunately, some of the key nutrients that our main ‘detoxing’ organs need to be fully functional. This can lead to impaired organ function and actually allow more toxins to accumulate.

So, assuming you don’t intend to use blending or juicing as a ‘detox’ approach – why else might you want to occasionally blend or juice?

Such drinks are easy to consume ‘on the go’ – much quicker than juicesitting down to eat a salad or dealing with the mess of trying to peel a mandarin on the way into a work conference! Many people report that they don’t like consuming solids first thing in the morning, but on the other hand, they don’t want to leave for their day with nothing in their systems – a nutritious liquid that ticks off a few fruit and vegetable serves early in the day could be a good compromise. Kids who turn their noses up at fruits or vegetables may be convinced to drink some ‘monster juice’ – my little one went through a fussy patch at around 3 years old, and green blends were a very effective way at upping her fruit and vegetable intake. And some may simply like the taste – though I’ve seen some horrendous green goop recipes doing the rounds!

At Life Nutrition, we strongly believe that if you do not enjoy what you’re eating and drinking – then aside from not being sustainable from a dietary perspective – you are not truly enjoying life in the meantime. We can’t have that!

One of the key concerns when dietary intake is restricted – either to lose weight, or due to poor eating habits, is the possible development of micronutrient (vitamin and mineral) deficiency. Synthetic vitamins/supplements have been shown to be generally acceptable in raising vitamin status in cases of deficiency, but they are not the best way to ensure safe, adequate intake as your body doesn’t fully absorb them and they’re often present in different forms to that occurring naturally in food. Excess in one supplemented vitamin or mineral can have unintended, unpleasant and at times dangerous side-effects or have detrimental interactions with medications. So unless totally necessary, I highly recommend that you refrain from taking supplements and instead work on obtaining adequate micronutrients from real, whole foods.

For me, juicing – where only the liquid of the fruit and vegetables is kept, just doesn’t cut it and doesn’t meet the definition of consuming fruit-juice‘whole foods’. Lack of fibre is the main reason for my opinion. Insoluble fibre from the plant’s stucture – eg from the skins or stalks, is great for bowel health and soluble fibre slows the rate of gastric emptying of all these nutrients/energy. This is excellent for blood cholesterol levels, blood glucose control (reduces sugar ‘spikes’), satiation, better nutrient absorption and is strongly associated with reduced cancer and heart disease risk. However, sadly all of this beautiful fibre is thrown out in juicing!

Negligible fibre in juice means that all the sugars will be absorbed far quicker with low satiation which can lead to over-consumption of energy and weight gain. If you juice too often and your fruit content is very high, your liver may not be able to keep up with fructose metabolism, leading to fat being stored around your organs and in the liver itself. It is this fat is the main contributor to metabolic dysfunction. Additionally, often antioxidants found in the skins, pulp and seeds of fruits and vegetables are left behind in the juicing process.

However, doing a blend occasionally (maximally one/day), where whole fruits and vegetables get both annihilated and consumed, does fit in with our ethos and can certainly be a handy top up to your micronutrient and fibre intake. So long as you don’t use too much fruit, you can get a really good nutrient intake for your ‘calorific buck’. Note though: unless you like drinking gritty salad purees, you’ll definitely need a high speed quality blender!

With blending, one lesser-known thing to watch out for though is that the acidity, natural sugars and colours in these blends can be very detrimental to your dental health and can cause staining if you blend too much over a long period of time, so minimise contact of the liquid with the teeth by using a straw, drinking your blend within a short time and then rinse your mouth and teeth with water after finishing.

So, if you are interested in blending, please see our Recipe page for some of my favourite recipes and blending tips – please give them a try and let me know if they hit the spot for you too –  otherwise I’d love to hear yours!