Calcium is the most abundant mineral found in the human body of which 99% is stored in the bones and teeth, necessary for strong bone structure. The roles of calcium are critical for body functioning but many adults, adolescents, and even children do not consume enough calcium-rich foods.
Many people may think that calcium is primarily needed during childhood when the body is rapidly growing. The belief is that once calcium has been deposited into the bones, it stays there forever – that once it is built, it is inert, like a rock. That is not true. The minerals of bones are in constant flux, with formation and dissolution taking place every minute of the day and night. In fact, almost the entire adult human skeleton is remodeled every 10 years.
Skipping consuming dairy foods believing calcium intake is not that important, will likely set you up for a calcium deficiency. Would you know the signs and symptoms if you are calcium deficient and more importantly, how to prevent it?
Signs of calcium deficiency
No matter what the cause of calcium deficiency may be (diet, medication, etc), the symptoms remain similar. Individuals who need to be most concerned and most aware of these symptoms are vegans, who consume no dairy foods that are the biggest and best contributors of calcium. Vegans also need to be mindful of running the risk of being deficient of other nutrients, like vitamin B12, iron, and zinc.
Here are possible signs you may have a calcium deficiency:
- Muscle aches and cramps, especially in the legs
- Numbness and tingling in the hands, arms, legs, and feet
- Dry skin
- Severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms
Anyone, who has these symptoms or is high-risk for calcium deficiency, should follow-up with their doctor. The longer calcium deficiency continues the higher chance for developing osteoporosis, severe dental problems of bone loss in the jaw, depression, chronic joint and muscle pain, and bone fractures.
Study finds higher bone loss when calcium deficient
A lack of calcium in the diet includes many risks but the most prominent one is developing weakened bones.
A longitudinal study that followed participants for 20 years found that bone fractures and osteoporosis cases were higher in participants with lower calcium intakes. Additionally, one study found that vegans (who do not consume dairy in any form) suffered more fractures, possibly in part due to lack of dairy intake, compared to meat-eaters, fish eaters, and some vegetarians.
We also know now too, thanks to scientific research, the importance of calcium for being protective of the heart and cardiovascular system.
While many people often resort to taking a calcium supplement if they find out they are deficient or avoid calcium-rich foods, nutrients in a supplement form may not be processed by the body the same way as calcium from food sources. There is some evidence to suggest that calcium supplements may damage the heart by raising the risk of plaque buildup in arteries. It is possible that much of the calcium from supplements doesn’t make it to the bones, and instead is excreted in urine.
How to increase calcium from food sources
Preventing calcium deficiency ideally begins early in life. Unfortunately, many adults are not meeting Recommended Daily Allowance for this mineral – adults ages 19 to 50 require 1000 mg of calcium a day and adults 51 and older require even more at 1200 mg a day.
Here is a listing of the best food sources to obtain calcium from and the amount of calcium in a serving size:
- Milk, (including lactose-free) – 1 cup – 300 mg
- Cottage cheese – ½ cup – 65 mg
- Ice cream or ice milk – ½ cup – 100 mg
- Soy milk and other plant-based milk like almond, calcium-fortified – 1 cup – 200 to 400 mg
- Kefir – 1 cup – 397 mg
- Yogurt – 1 cup – 300 mg
- Hard cheese (cheddar, jack) – 1 ounce – 200 mg
- Broccoli, cooked – 1 cup – 180 mg
- Spinach, cooked – 1 cup – 240 mg
- Figs, dried, uncooked – 1 cup – 300 mg
- Orange juice, calcium-fortified – 1 cup – 300 mg
- Tofu, firm, calcium-set – 4 ounces – 250 to 750 mg
- Tofu, soft regular – 4 ounces – 120 to 390 mg
- Cereals, calcium-fortified – ½ to 1 cup – 250 to 1000 mg
- Bread, calcium-fortified – 1 slice – 150 to 200 mg
- Sesame seeds, whole, roasted – 1 ounce – 280 mg
- Salmon, canned, with bones – 3 ounces – 170 to 210 mg
- Sardines – 3 ounces – 370 mg
Start today including more calcium-rich foods in meals and snacks. Bone health is too important to ignore and the earlier you begin protecting it, the better chance of avoiding a calcium deficiency.