Healthy bones are strong bones – and, strong bones are beautiful bones.
When our bones are strong, we have better posture, a stronger spine and better balance. To prevent osteoporosis, which affects posture and balance, we need good nutritional sources of calcium – absorbable calcium.
In my last blog, we discussed why dairy might not be your best source of calcium. It’s important to also know that while dairy might have more calcium than vegetables, our bodies absorb less calcium from dairy than veggies. That’s because the calcium-magnesium ratio in dairy products does not allow our bodies to properly absorb all the calcium dairy contains. In fact, according to Dr. Joel Fuhrman M.D., a renowned American medical doctor who is an advocate of a micronutrient rich diet, and Dr. Neal Bernard, M.D., also an American physician, clinical researcher and founder/president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, calcium absorption form milk is about 32%, whereas leafy vegetables have a calcium absorption rate of over 50%.
So if you’re looking for some non-dairy suggestions so you can have stronger bones, follow these simple recommendations and you can be sure that you are giving your bones the best chances to stay healthy and strong:
- Eat plenty of vegetables, especially those dark leafy greens. Leafy greens are an amazing source of calcium. Be sure to include five to seven portions daily and include parsley, root veggies, and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. They are also rich in magnesium, which are essential in bone formation and calcium utilization. So how much calcium is absorbed from vegetables? Here are some veggies and their calcium absorption levels, which are very close to delivering amounts almost the same as milk:
- Kale 40-59%
- Brussel Sprouts 64%
- Broccoli 53%
- Mustard greens 64%
If you do the math, you’ll see how close you can match the calcium in milk through veggies. For example, one cup of milk (skim, low fat or whole) has 300 mg of calcium and 1 cup of cooked broccoli has 180 mg of calcium. At their absorption rates, you’ll be absorbing approximately 95 mg of calcium with the milk, whereas, you’ll absorb 95.4 mg of calcium with broccoli. Cooked collard greens is another great source of calcium for one cup contains 357 mg of calcium and at the higher absorbability rate than milk, makes it a no-brainer source of calcium!
- Cook with stocks made with vegetables and a stick of Kombu seaweed. Or, make stock with fish, chicken or beef bones and a tablespoon of vinegar to liberate the minerals.
- When consuming meat for your protein source, be sure to choose naturally raised animal sources.
- Eat a moderate amount of sunflower and pumpkin seeds for the minerals and natural fats…you can add them to smoothies or as toppings to salads.
- Include a modest amount of whole grains for the fiber and complex carbohydrates.
- Eat beans and legumes that have been soaked with Kombu seaweed, rinsed and cooked in fresh water.
- Use butter, extra virgin olive, flaxseed, and unrefined sesame oils for essential fatty acids.
Foods to avoid or have on occasional rather than regular basis:
- Avoid foods that create acidic blood pH – such as dairy, meat, sugar, and caffeine. When the body needs to balance blood pH, it will draw calcium from the bones – this can reduce bone density.
- Avoid cola and other soda products – phosphorous from soda competes with calcium for absorption.
- High sodium foods
- Sugary snacks
- Too much alcohol
- Unsoaked beans
- Unless you’re getting enough calcium, avoid inflammatory foods like nightshades and mushrooms. (These foods have great nutrient benefits so you don’t want to avoid all together).
- Oxalate veggies like spinach- spinach has a high level of calcium but the oxalates in them bind the calcium making it unabsorbable. It’s also important to know that oxalic acid is the primary content of kidney stones – a good reason to also limit oxalate foods. You can reduce the oxalate level in your veggies by boiling them and tossing the water because the oxalates literally fall off the veggies into the water. Boiling is more effective than steaming, for example a study in 2005 showed that boiling spinach reduced the oxalates by 87%, whereas steaming only reduced them by 42%.*
What are your favorite plant-based sources for calcium?