We Need Calcium for More Than Just Our Bones
"A healthy diet is a solution to many of our healthcare problems. It's the most important solution." - John Mackey
Hello and welcome back to Smart Girls Gotta Eat! After taking a month off this summer to relax while also plan for the future, we are back and better than ever! Hopefully, in our absence you have been able to strike that perfect balance of achieving the coveted bikini-body, while also remembering nutrition is the best medicine. To pick back up where we left off, today we are going to talk about an important vitamin that many of us know about, yet often overlook: Calcium.
Everyone knows that we need calcium starting a young age in order to grow to be “big and strong.” We drink our mothers’ milk as a newborn, and most nutritionists recommend that kids have a glass of milk with dinner every night. But eventually, most people make the transition from drinking milk to water with meals, and we slowly tend to phase out calcium from our diets. Part of this is from the ongoing debate on whether we should be eating dairy or not. That discussion is a whole different can of worms with lots of valid points on either side. But the good news is that calcium and dairy are not always the same thing – just because we need calcium in our diets, does not mean that we have to get it through dairy products. In fact, there are many foods and non-dairy milks that have sufficient calcium in them.
First of all, let’s dive deeper into why we need calcium. As I hinted to earlier, there is this common mindset that once we have stopped growing, we don’t need calcium as much as when we were kids growing an inch an hour. That is NOT true – adults need calcium just as badly as kids do!! In fact, older adults even need more calcium per day than kids do. If you ever take a neuroscience class, you will learn more about the calcium ion than you ever want to know. But, the reality is that a molecular neuroscience class doesn’t exactly fit into most people’s daily or morning routines, so I’m here to give you a quick summary. In our brains, neurons are firing at all times – this is how our brain communicates about everything from regulating our heart beating to moving muscles to executive decisions. And one of the most important molecules in these firing is calcium. Calcium is so vital that many experiments have shown in one way or another that a decreased release of calcium in our brains is associated with many neurological diseases. And outside of our brains, we all know that the majority of the calcium in our bodies lives in our bones and teeth to make them strong and contribute to our physical health.
Because calcium is so important for both our brains and bodies, when we are deficient in this nutrient, we can unintentionally wreak havoc all throughout our bodies. Besides being at risk for osteoporosis and therefore looking like the grandmother that always has a new broken bone, calcium deficiencies play a part in many parts of everyday life. For starters, the combination of lethargy yet sleeplessness at night is a common result. When it comes to the brain, not enough of this nutrient can contribute to confusion, irritability and even depression. This relationship between calcium and mental illness is often overlooked, yet important – we need calcium to keep our nervous system signaling healthy and regular, so with lower levels, our bodies might not fire the electrical pulses as normal. Who knew?!? Even more, our dentists may not be too happy with us if we are deficient because when our body does not have the levels needed, we result to taking the calcium away from our teeth.
But here’s the catch: our bodies cannot make this nutrient in-house, so we have to outsource through our food. This is one of the many reasons why Smart Girls Gotta Eat – our brain and bodies cannot naturally stay healthy on their own, we have to feed ourselves! And of course, while dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt tend to have the greatest amounts of Calcium per serving, there are many other sources. First of all, almond milk and other milk-alternatives are actually fortified in their calcium, so some might actually have higher levels of Calcium than regular milk. If you don’t love to drink milk, some ideas to incorporate it in your diet are making smoothies, making oatmeal with milk instead of water, or even just having a bowl of cereal. Outside of milk, orange juice, dark greens like kale and broccoli, soy products, tofu, chia seeds, and beans are great sources as well. One thing to keep in mind no matter what is that our bodies need both fat and Vitamin D in order to absorb calcium, so be sure you are getting adequate levels of both. In order to get the calcium you need, this might take some adjusting to your regular diet, but your body will thank you tremendously both in the short term and the long term!!
Now that it is August and we are all gearing back up for school to start, most of us will be back to spending long hours doing schoolwork and thinking hard. While it might be easy to think coffee and carbs are the only sources for energy, don’t forget to keep calcium in mind! It is one of the most important nutrients for our brains to function properly, so help yourself focus and improve your memory by getting the proper daily intake. And in the meantime, keep updated with Smart Girls Gotta Eat this fall, as we continue to evolve and grow!