Eat Well to Be Well: Could you be calcium deficient and not know it? – Osage County Online | Osage County News

Eat Well to Be Well: Could you be calcium deficient and not know it?

Calcium is the most abundant mineral found in the human body, with 99 percent stored in the bones and teeth, and is necessary for strong bone structure. The roles of calcium are critical for body functioning, but many adults, adolescents and 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 due to 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 aware of these symptoms are vegans, who consume no dairy foods, which 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.

Studies 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, on 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. If you are currently taking a calcium supplement or considering doing so, consult with your physician for their advice.

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 1,000 mg of calcium a day and adults 51 and older require even more at 1,200 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, 1/2 cup, 65 mg
  • Ice cream or ice milk, 1/2 cup, 100 mg
  • Soy milk and other plant-based milks like almond, calcium-fortified, 1 cup, 200 to 400 mg
  • Kefir, 1 cup, 397 mg
  • Yogurt, 1 cup, 300 mg
  • Hard cheese (Cheddar, Monterey 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, 1/2 to 1 cup, 250 to 1,000 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.

Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in dietetics and nutrition from the University of Kansas, and a bachelor’s degree in dietetics and institutional management from Kansas State University. She is a clinical dietitian for local clinics, an adjunct professor at an area community college where she teaches basic nutrition, and a freelance health and nutrition writer. She is the author of The Nourished Brain: The Latest Science On Food’s Power For Protecting The Brain From Alzheimers and Dementia and The Prediabetes Action Plan and Cookbook. Visit her website at

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