Calcium in Nutrition

Calcium is an important component of a healthy diet. Calcium is essential for the normal growth and maintenance of bones and teeth, and calcium requirements must be met throughout life. Long-term calcium deficiency can lead to osteoporosis, in which the bone deteriorates and there is an increased risk of fractures. While a lifelong deficit can affect bone and tooth formation, over-retention can cause hypercalcemia (elevated levels of calcium in the blood), impaired kidney function and decreased absorption of other minerals. High calcium intakes or high calcium absorption were previously thought to contribute to the development of kidney stones. However, more recent studies show that high dietary calcium intakes actually decrease the risk for kidney stones. Vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium.

Dairy products, such as milk and cheese, are a well-known source of calcium. However, some individuals are allergic to dairy products and even more people, particularly those of non Indo-European descent, are lactose-intolerant, leaving them unable to consume non-fermented dairy products in quantities larger than about half a liter per serving. Others, such as vegans, avoid dairy products for ethical and health reasons. Fortunately, many good sources of calcium exist. These include seaweeds such as kelp, wakame and hijiki; nuts and seeds (like almonds and sesame); blackstrap molasses; beans; oranges; figs; quinoa; amaranth; collard greens; okra; rutabaga; broccoli; dandelion leaves; kale; and fortified products such as orange juice and soy milk. (However, calcium fortified orange juice often contains vitamin D3 derrived from lanolin, and is thus unacceptable for vegans.) An overlooked source of calcium is eggshell, which can be ground into a powder and mixed into food or a glass of water. Cultivated vegetables generally have less calcium than wild plants.

The calcium content of most foods can be found in the USDA National Nutrient Database.
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