Prevent Bone Loss with Calcium Rich Foods

Could your diet be robbing your body of calcium?

| July/August 2002


Confused about how to protect yourself from bone loss? Join the club. For decades, various news reports and marketing campaigns have emphasized calcium, leading many of us to believe that if we drink more milk and take more supplements, we might avoid calcium-related disorders. But projections of osteoporosis affecting more than 15 million people in the United States—one of the most prodigious consumers of milk products and dietary supplements in the world—belie the promise.

While there’s no doubt that calcium is a major player in bone health, many factors affect the mineral’s assimilation. Its presence in both food and supplements does not necessarily correlate to its bioavailability, and it is well known that only a portion of calcium consumed is absorbed. From some high-calcium foods, assimilation is estimated to be as low as 5 percent. Calcium requires a host of synergistic vitamins and minerals, many of which need to be in balance for proper assimilation. Vitamin D, magnesium, and boron top the list, but a dozen others are also contributors, and it is anticipated that more will be identified or discovered as the function of food constituents continues to be a trendy topic.

Most health-conscious people are aware that smoking and excessive alcohol intake, along with a lack of weight-bearing exercise and sun exposure, are significant factors in bone loss. Regardless, many still vacillate between healthy eating and the high-salt, high-sugar, coffee-quaffing culture that has put us, and our progeny, on a path to bone Armageddon. Few realize that overindulgence in meat, dairy, and even many favorite health foods may be imbalancing our bodies’ ability to assimilate calcium and other key minerals and nutrients. Excess protein, sugar, salt, and caffeine are all known calcium inhibitors, but so are excess phosphorus, phytic acid, and oxalic acid found in a wide range of foods beneficial to good health.

Moderation is the key. Balancing beans, whole grains, and other healthy foods with calcium, magnesium, boron, and other nutrients from a variety of fruits and vegetables can be another significant factor in calcium absorption. The resulting balanced diet has a much greater chance of providing necessary synergistic constituents.

Calcium-inhibiting compounds

Phosphorus is essential to calcium assimilation, but too much will inhibit its absorption. Because phosphorus is available in some amount in most foods, it is not surprising that most Americans consume too much to allow for optimum calcium utilization. Animal products such as meat, fish, dairy, and eggs are especially high, which casts a shadow on the popular high-protein diets. But the biggest threat comes from soda pop, which presents a triple whammy with phosphoric acid, high sugar, and empty calories. Healthy beans, nuts, and whole grains also contribute a large portion of phosphorus. A mere 1/4 cup of sunflower seeds supplies half of a day’s requirement, so balancing a wide variety of types of foods is very important.

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