calcium in a nutshell
Listen to most doctors and mainstream nutritionists and you would think it impossible to get enough calcium on a raw vegan diet. The reality? It's easy as long as you know how. By Betty Favot.
In the past 50 years calcium has probably become the best known mineral for health. Anyone will be able to tell you that you need calcium for strong bones and teeth. Most people will also tell you that dairy products are essential in order to achieve a good intake of calcium. While dairy products are a possible source of calcium, the reason they are touted as the 'best' source has more to do with heavy advertising from dairy producers and manufacturers than solid scientific research. In fact, we can get our calcium from plant foods just like the dairy cow does. And this is not only a possible way to meet our calcium needs - it is the best way!
Dairy products (and all animal products for that matter) can create an acidic environment in the blood which is corrected by mobilizing calcium from the bones. Therefore, dairy products can increase both calcium intake and calcium excretion, meaning that net calcium gain can be low. In addition, dairy products can also be high in saturated fat and contain natural growth factors.
All in all, the amount of calcium contained in dairy products is just not worth everything that comes with it! Fortunately, there are many plant sources which are easily accessible and can be eaten raw such as:
* carob flour
* collard leaves
* turnip greens
* sunflower seeds
* sesame seeds
* Brazil nuts
* sprouted soya beans (edamame)
As a simple rule, all dark green leafy vegetables, with the exception of spinach, are a good source of calcium and should be eaten often. The same rule applies to nuts and seeds - almonds in particular. If you suspect you are running low in this essential mineral, sprout them first for a serious calcium infusion.
While taking care to increase those plant foods which are rich in calcium, it is of equal importance to decrease or eliminate those acid-forming foods or drinks which can leach calcium from the bones. These include:
* Caffeine and sugar Just like animal protein, caffeine and sugar create an acidic environment in the body which is then offset by displacing calcium from the bones.
* Fizzy drinks Can contain relatively high levels of phosphorous. In order to balance phosphorous levels in the body, calcium is drawn from the bones and teeth. For the above reasons caffeinated fizzy drinks are particularly harmful.
* Alcohol Due to its diuretic action, alcohol promotes calcium and magnesium loss.
* Salt Like alcohol, sodium chloride acts as a diuretic and increases calcium loss.
* Spinach and rhubarb Both vegetables are high in oxalic acid which bonds with calcium and hinders its absorption.
* Smoking and aluminium-containing antacids Have a negative impact on bones.
Even when enough calcium is present in the diet and the above anti-nutrients are kept to a minimum it is nevertheless important to remember that stomach acid is vital to allow proper absorption of it. Because the production of stomach acid often declines with age, especially in women, using apple cider vinegar as a dressing or in water (15ml) during meals can create an acidic stomach environment which aids in the absorption of calcium.
It is also important to remember that the following nutrients are all vital for bone health because they work synergistically with calcium to allow healthy bone regeneration: magnesium, boron, zinc, vitamin K, vitamin C, and vitamin D. These nutrients are available through a varied vegan diet and exposure to sunlight. Supplementing with a herbal preparation containing urtica and silica can also increase calcium uptake.
Betty Favot, Dip ION, is a practicing nutritionist and a member of the British Association for Nutritional Therapy. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared in the Winter 2007 issue of Get Fresh! magazine.