Nutrition is one of the most important components of staying active for the long term: you truly can’t outrun a bad diet, especially one that is calorie-dense but nutrient-deficient.
You likely know that eating plenty of vegetables and staying away from highly processed food is a crucial element of maintaining health and fitness, but you may not be aware of what exactly you need in your diet to support your body’s functions. There seems to be an ever-growing list of things you must include for whole-body wellness, but there is one thing that is a perennial must for all individuals, particularly women: calcium.
Today, we’ll take a dive into the world of this essential mineral, as well as discuss how you can ensure you have enough in your health-friendly diet.
What is Calcium?
Calcium is one of the atomic elements, specifically one of the soft metals. This white, chalky substance is plentiful throughout the animal and mineral world; for example, limestone, which is a highly porous rock used in industry, is composed almost entirely of calcium carbonate. The name ‘calcium’ actually comes from the Latin word calx, which means limestone.
In animals, calcium is found in bones, shells, and teeth, where it supports the structural integrity of the body. A human body contains about 1kg of calcium; this means that if you weigh about 155 pounds, your body is 7% calcium!
It’s clear that to maintain strong bones, you need plenty of calcium, but this is not its only function in your body systems.
Functions of Calcium in the Body
The most obvious function of calcium is being a mainstay of the bone matrix, as well as helping to create teeth. However, it is also important for your day-to-day functions, including muscle contractions, blood clotting, and initiating metabolic processes.
A small amount of calcium circulates in the blood; it is also stored in body tissues and the extracellular fluid, which is the liquid substance surrounding each cell in your body. While this makes up only 1% of all the calcium in your body, it has a critical role to play: it helps blood vessels contract and dilate, lets white blood cells clump together to form clots, and hastens nerve transmissions so that your muscles know when to move.
If there is not enough calcium in your blood, hormones will tell your bones and teeth to release calcium: essentially, they “borrow” this important substance from your bones, which means you’ll need to up your calcium dosage to help maintain strong bones. Ensuring you have enough calcium may help reduce the risk of osteoporosis later in life, a condition where your bones are too porous and, therefore, prone to breakage.
Calcium also has a connection with other vitamins and minerals: Vitamin D helps improve the absorption of the mineral, which is why many calcium supplements also include this vitamin.
The average person, whether male or female, needs approximately 1,000 mg of calcium per day, which rises to 1,500 mg above the age of 50.
Various foods contain calcium, though this is mostly in dairy products. Milk, cream, yogurt, and cheeses all give you a dose of calcium, as do fortified plant milks like soy, almond, and rice milk. In terms of meat, sardines, salmon, and other small-boned fish like perch contain calcium.
Orange juice is often calcium-fortified as well, but it’s also present in some vegetables, including winter squash, edamame, tofu, almonds, and leafy greens like spinach, kale, mustard, turnip, and bok choy.
Why Take a Calcium Supplement?
One of the populations who should absolutely consider taking calcium supplements is vegetarians and vegans, who are missing out on some of the most calcium-rich foods like fish and cheese. Research published in BioMed Central suggests that vegetarians may be more prone to osteoporosis, including hip fractures. Calcium supplementation may help reduce this risk when taken in conjunction with a healthful diet and physical activity.
However, other individuals may also consider taking calcium supplements, particularly women above the age of 50. Estrogen helps to slow bone breakdown; when these hormone levels drop after menopause, it can lead to osteoporosis, which increases the risk of broken bones. Staying active, eating a varied diet, and taking a calcium supplement may help reduce your risk, ensuring that you stay fit throughout your lifetime. For women approaching menopause, maintaining a healthy balance of essential nutrients is crucial, and incorporating probiotics, such as those discussed in this informative article from Better Body, can be beneficial for overall well-being.
Your body is a marvelous machine that requires a variety of vitamins and minerals in order to function at its best. Good nutrition, plenty of physical activity, and prudent supplementation can all contribute to your overall well-being for the long term. Calcium, the underappreciated mineral that makes up a significant portion of your body, is a paramount component of maintaining your fitness throughout your lifespan.