Calcium is the most common mineral in the body. It supports bone and dental health, as well as nerve conduction, heartbeat regulation, muscle contractions, and weight maintenance. Eating calcium-rich foods can help maintain overall health — and it is especially important for older, post-menopausal women, to prevent osteoporosis.
To properly absorb and use calcium, the body also needs sufficient amounts of other essential nutrients, specifically vitamins D and K. Because most calcium-rich foods also contain these additional nutrients, getting calcium from natural sources instead of supplements is ideal.
Milk is one of the richest sources of calcium and also contains vitamins A, B12, and K and several trace elements that help balance electrolytes. Vitamin A aids bone growth and healthy immune function needed to help fight bacteria and viruses. Vitamin B12 keeps the nerves and red blood cells healthy, and biotin or vitamin B7 strengthens hair and nails and lowers cholesterol.
In addition to calcium benefits, the probiotics in yogurt make it easier for people with lactose sensitivities and IBS to digest than regular milk. Yogurt also contains potassium, vitamins B6, B12, and magnesium. Ideally, avoid yogurt with added sugar or unnatural flavorings. The high protein content of yogurt makes it a healthy snack that enhances energy. Some companies add vitamin D to yogurts, as well, to improve calcium absorption.
Cheese contains calcium, protein, phosphorus, and zinc. It is also a good source of vitamins A and B12. Though it can interact poorly with some medications and may be unmanageable for people with lactose allergies or intolerances, there are many healthy reasons to incorporate moderate servings of cheese in your diet.
Eggs contain a moderate amount of calcium (about 50 mg per 100 grams), and this protein-rich food is a well of nutritional goodness, providing vitamins A, D, and B6, as well as magnesium. Deficiencies in these amino acids can lead to various issues including fatigue. They increase HDL (the good cholesterol) levels in the blood, which improves cardiovascular health. Eggs also help keep the eyes healthy thanks to lutein and vital antioxidants.
Cruciferous vegetables such as kale, collard greens, and broccoli contain high amounts of calcium and are rich in healthy fibers that improve digestion and prevent constipation. Fiber and calcium are a good team: the first slows digestion, allowing the body to absorb more of the second.
Spinach can be eaten raw or cooked and is rich in calcium, potassium, iron, and vitamins A, C, and B6. It also offers up many antioxidants that help reduce the harmful effects of free radicals -- molecules that interrupt healthy cell regeneration and can lead to cancerous growths. Spinach is high in oxalates, however, which make absorbing calcium more difficult. Be sure to eat other foods high in calcium to get your full RDI.
Broccoli contains vitamins A, and C, as well as potassium and iron. One cup of broccoli contains about ten percent of the daily recommended allowance of calcium. Vitamin C aids in detoxification and removal of free radicals and toxins from the body, which can improve the immune system, decrease inflammation, and enhance skin health. Broccoli is also rich in fiber, which makes the body feel fuller longer and maintains regular digestion.
Kelp is farmed seaweed. It is rich in calcium, low in calories, and has a tangy, salty flavor. This sea vegetable is also an excellent source of iodine, which is important for the production of thyroid hormone, which ensures health metabolism and aids many other bodily processes. Kelp can also improve blood glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes and could ease symptoms of heart disease by preventing blood clots.
Okra is a popular comfort food in the southern states. A single-cup serving contains eight percent of the daily allowance of calcium. This small vegetable is similar to squash but has a slightly slippery texture. Okra medallions can be fried (though this reduces its nutritional value), or the veggie can be added to traditional gumbo soup.
High-protein sardines are also a great source of calcium. These little fish contain over 300 mg of calcium per three-ounce serving and are also a valuable source of vitamins A, C, D, B6, and B12. Because canned sardines are often eaten whole, they contain edible fish bones which are very high in calcium. They also contain fairly high amounts of iron and magnesium. Omega-3 fatty acids are prominent in sardines, too. These fats can reduce the risk of heart disease.
Soybeans are a popular ingredient in many East Asian cuisines and are full of many nutrients including calcium, magnesium, vitamin B6, iron, and vitamin C. The presence of magnesium with the calcium is important, as the two work together to perform vital roles in the body. Iron plays a significant role in the formation of red blood cells. Tofu, which is made from soybeans, has many of these same benefits and is often fortified with other nutrients as well.
There are four types of white beans: navy (pea), great northern, cannellini, and baby lima beans. Each type has a different taste and size, but all are plant sources of calcium and mild enough in flavor that many people enjoy them. White beans also contain potassium, vitamin C, and magnesium. They are good for people with heart disease as they also contain soluble fiber, essential for heart health. White beans are an alternative source of protein for people who don't eat meat, poultry, or fish. White beans also contain oxalates that may inhibit calcium absorption, so be sure to eat a variety of calcium-rich foods.
Consuming calcium-rich kefir can be a good choice for people with IBS or lactose sensitivity as it contains bacteria from the fermentation process that aid lactose digestion. This yogurt-like drink is rich in calcium and a decent source of probiotics, as well. Kefir can be consumed in a smoothie with fresh fruit, or with granola, in place of milk, as part of a healthy breakfast. A single-cup serving contains about half of one's daily calcium needs, based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Rainbow trout is a good source of calcium and omega-3 fatty acids. It also contains some vitamin D and lean protein. Fish is a good alternative to red meat and boasts nutrients essential for cell metabolism, including thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12.
In addition to the vitamin C for which they're known, oranges are also a good source of other vitamins like A and B6. Oranges don't have a lot of calcium on their own, but many brands fortify their orange juice with calcium. People with high cholesterol can benefit from oranges, which help lower the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol. Those with reflux disease or GERD, however, should avoid oranges as their acidity can aggravate heartburn.
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