Calcium is an essential nutrient necessary for a number of functions within the body and for maintaining overall health.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body with 99% found in teeth and bone.
Benefits of Calcium
As a mineral, calcium is often associated with healthy bones and teeth, however, it also plays an important role in blood clotting, helping muscles to contract, and regulating normal heart rhythms and nerve functions. In order to perform these vital roles, a steady amount of calcium is required in the blood and tissues. With the help of vitamin D for absorption and retention, calcium may also assist in protecting the body from cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
Bone Health - Calcium plays a vital role in the development and growth of bones while ensuring bone health is maintained and the overall structure is not compromised. Typically by the age of 30, bone density and mass are at their peak. After this point, bone density is gradually reduced due to the aging body's need to store calcium for body functions.
Cardiovascular Health - In order for the body's functional mobility and movement, muscles need to contract, including the beating of the heart. Calcium is essential for muscle contraction and acts as a signal for the muscle fibres to begin the contraction cycle when a muscle is stimulated.
Nerve Function - Calcium acts as a messenger between cells and tissues. Therefore, it is involved in the transmission of nerve signals throughout the body which allows us to feel sensations and move our muscles.
Sources of Calcium
Unfortunately, our bodies are unable to produce calcium on their own. Therefore, additional calcium must be obtained through outside sources found in a variety of foods and supplements.
There are a number of different foods that contain high levels of calcium that can be used for your body's overall health. These foods include:
Dairy products, such as cheese, milk and yogurt
Dark green leafy vegetables, such as broccoli and kale
Fish with edible soft bones, such as sardines and canned salmon
Calcium-fortified foods and beverages, such as soy products, cereal and fruit juices, and milk substitutes
With the help of vitamin D found in some foods, such as egg yolk and salmon, or from outside sources such as sun exposure and supplements, calcium can be absorbed by the body to maintain functions throughout the body.
If you follow a vegan diet, are lactose intolerant, have specific digestive diseases (such as inflammatory bowel disease or celiac) which may decrease your ability to absorb calcium, or if you consume large quantities of protein and sodium, causing your body to excrete more calcium, you may want to consider calcium supplements.
According to Osteoporosis Canada, adults between 19 - 50 years of age require 1,000mg of calcium daily and those over the age of 50 require 1,200mg of calcium daily. It is important to know how much calcium you consume each day to determine if you require a calcium supplement or are getting enough from natural food sources.
For those over 50, Canada’s Food Guide recommends 3 servings of milk and alternatives (2 servings for adults under age 50) – yogurt, cheese, calcium-fortified beverages, puddings, custards, etc. This essentially means that, if you are over 50, you need the equivalent of one good serving of dairy at each meal. An example of a serving of dairy for each meal may be a glass of milk to start your day, soup that’s made with milk (like cream of mushroom soup) at midday and a main course made with cheese such as lasagna. Other options may be yogurt with fruit for dessert.
Calcium-Rich Recipe Options - there are a variety of recipes online that can inspire you to increase your calcium intake naturally within your diet. Options include yogurt and fruit parfaits, pasta and cheese dishes, grilled salmon, or vegetable options such as broccolini and bok choy. Try the one below at your next meal with over 1000mg of calcium!
5 ½ ounces manicotti pasta
1-pint part-skim ricotta cheese
8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon dried parsley
salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 (16oz) jar of spaghetti sauce
Cook manicotti in boiling water until al dente, about 10 to 12 minutes; drain and rinse with cold water.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
Mix ricotta, mozzarella, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, eggs, parsley, salt, and pepper in a large bowl until well combined.
Pour 1/2 cup spaghetti sauce into an 11x17-inch baking dish. Stuff each manicotti shell with 3 tablespoons cheese mixture, and arrange over sauce. Pour the remaining sauce over the top of the shells and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese.
Bake in the preheated oven until bubbly, about 45 minutes.
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