Our body needs a number of nutrients to maintain its day to day functioning. While some of these are produced by the body itself, there are some nutrients which are needed to be consumed in the form of food or dietary sources. Calcium is one such food. It is an essential nutrient that comprises about 1-2% of the body weight and is needed for the development and maintenance of bones and teeth. Additionally, calcium is also needed for the proper functioning of the nervous and circulatory system. Bet you never thought how important this simple mineral is.

Unfortunately, people in Asian countries like India tend to have low calcium intake. Studies suggest that daily calcium intake is around 400 mg per day in these countries.

According to NIH, calcium deficiency is not easily apparent as the body keeps on taking calcium from the bones to fulfil its requirements. Gradually your bones become weak and become prone to diseases like osteoporosis and fractures. Serious calcium deficiency may also show up as arrhythmias and numb and tingling fingers.

The good news here is that a lot of Indian foods have an inherently rich calcium content and if you take adequate amounts of these foods, you might not have to rely on supplements.

So, what are the easily available sources of calcium in an Indian diet? And how can they be taken? More importantly how much calcium is needed per day?

Read on to find out.

  1. Why do you need calcium
  2. Daily calcium requirement
  3. High calcium foods chart
  4. Calcium rich foods: Scientific evidence
  5. Takeaway

Calcium is well known for maintaining bone and teeth health as these are the tissues where most of the body’s calcium is absorbed. But that is not all that is to this mineral. Let us go through some of the other properties of calcium:

  • It helps in muscle contraction and relaxation
  • It reduces the risk of high blood pressure and heart diseases.
  • Calcium is required for proper blood clotting
  • It plays an important role in the transmission of signals between neurons (brain cells)
  • It helps in maintaining fluid balance in body cells.
  • It plays a crucial role in oocyte activation.
  • It helps in the proper digestion of milk.

If you are a health enthusiast, chances are you might be aware of the daily recommended allowance for calcium, which is 1000-1200 mg per day. However, this amount is not always the same. Calcium requirements are generally much lower than the aforementioned value in early ages and it gradually increases as we age. Here is a table mentioning the variations in daily calcium allowance with increasing age.

Age Daily calcium requirement
0-6 months 200 mg
7-12 months 260 mg
1-3 years 700 mg
4-8 years 1000 mg
9-18 years 1300 mg
Up to 50 years 1000 mg
Pregnant and nursing women 1000 mg
51-70 years 1000 mg (men), 1200 mg (women)
>71 years 1200 mg

However, it is best to refer to a doctor to know the right calcium requirement for you.

Now, you know exactly how much calcium you need as per your age; but how to keep tabs on the daily intake? What is the calcium content in various food items? And how tedious is it going to be if someone is following a vegetarian, non-vegetarian or vegan diet? Well, it is not as difficult as it seems. The following chart may answer some of your queries.

Vegan food sources

 Source Amount Calcium present
Chapati 60 g 70 mg
Wheat bran (crude) 100 g 73 mg
Rice 160 g 1 mg (boiled), 13 mg (fried)
Puffed rice 100 g 83 mg
Brown bread slice 25 g 30 mg
Rye bread 20 g 50 mg
Apple with skin 100 g 6 mg
Dried figs 100 g 162 mg
Lemon 100 g 26 mg
Mango 100 g 10 mg
Orange 100 g 43 mg
Raisins 20 g 60 mg
Boiled beetroot 30 g 30 mg
Raw carrots 50 g 50 mg
Cucumber 100 g 16 mg
Green pepper 15 g 9 mg
Radish 20 g 40 mg
Spinach 100 g 99 mg
Tomato 120 g 10 (raw), 20 (fried)
Raw onion 100 g 23 mg
Turnip 100 g 114 mg

Milk and other dairy products

Source Amount Calcium present
Fresh whole Milk 100 g 113 mg
Fresh skimmed milk 230 g 130 mg
Cottage cheese (Paneer) 25 g 60 mg
Plain yoghurt 200 g 145 mg
Ice cream 60 g 140 mg
Salted butter 10 g 17 mg

Snacks, Spreads, Sauces and Sweets

Source Amount Calcium present
Chocolate biscuit 20 g 110 mg
Sesame seeds -- 1160 mg
Cheese and tomato pizza 150 g 240 mg
Macaroni 150 g 8 mg
Almonds 15 g 250 mg
Peanuts 25 g 40 mg
Pistachios 15 g 130 mg
Cashews 20 g 45 mg
Tomato sauce 25 g 30 mg
Tomato soup 230 g 10-20 mg
Honey 30 g 5 mg
Popcorn 15 g 5 mg

 Animal products

Source Amount Calcium present
Eggs 100 g 91 mg (boiled), 100 mg (fried)
Omelette 100 g 50 mg
Fried Cod 100 g 80 mg
Boiled chicken 100 g 10 mg
Chicken wing 130 g 5 mg
Boneless chicken 100 g 46 mg
Fried chicken liver 100 g 15 mg

After looking at the whole chart, one might wonder what and how exactly would these foods help you with or if there is any scientific evidence behind any of these claims. You might be amazed to know that a lot of foods have been studied for their calcium content and benefits. Let us have a look at a few such foods.

Calcium in milk and dairy products

Milk and dairy products are probably one of the easily available and cost-effective ways of adding calcium to your diet. Even if you are not so much into scientific evidence, you might have heard about the high calcium contents in milk. Probably that is because dairy products have been extensively researched on their benefits for maintaining bone structure.

Studies suggest that children and young adults who drink milk on a regular basis have a much lower risk of developing osteoporosis in older age. But you don’t really have to fret if you have already crossed that precautionary age. It can still help you preserve and improve bone density and without needing any extra calcium supplement. According to a meta-analysis, regular dairy consumption has not only been found to restore calcium levels in test subjects but the same results are noticed in the regular population.  

Vitamin D is essential for proper calcium absorption from food. A clinical study published in Nutrition Research and Practice observed an increase in total vitamin D levels along with an increase in calcium levels. So, dairy products not only are rich in calcium but also facilitate calcium absorption in the body. What better can you dream of?

In spite of all of these benefits, dairy is usually a bit underrated. This is because people fear the risk of extra fats and heart diseases. If that is your concern, you can always opt for low-fat dairy, you will still get all the calcium that you need. Also, it won’t pose much threat to your health and there is always the option of yoghurt and hard cheese for lactose-intolerant people.

Studies indicate that 2 to 3 servings of dairy products are safe to consume per day.

(Read more: Lactose intolerance symptoms)

Calcium rich fruits

Fruits might not even the last option that comes to mind while thinking about calcium sources. But you might be amazed to know that dry figs have much more calcium content than a glass of milk. Studies suggest that daily intake of mineral increases the mineral content in blood. Orange is yet another calcium-rich food that has been found to increase calcium and vitamin D levels in the body.

You can easily make a calcium-rich fruit salad by tossing fruits like papaya, figs, oranges, strawberries and apricots or just blend them to make a smoothie or juice.

Calcium rich vegetables

Green leafy vegetables and the Brassicaceae family (cabbage and broccoli) are one of the best sources of dietary calcium. In fact, it has been speculated that the bitter taste of these vegetables may be due to their high calcium content. Vegetables like broccoli, kale and spinach are especially revered for their healing benefits in osteoporosis.

Calcium in nuts and whole grains

Nuts, especially almonds and pistachios are yet another type of calcium-rich foods. Not only do they provide calcium but some nuts are good in vitamin D too, which means they help in increasing bone density and play a role in calcium absorption and assimilation.

Studies indicate that almonds slow down the breakdown of bones by downregulating certain genes thus reducing the chances of bone diseases and fractures. Sesame seeds, on the other hand, are one of the richest sources of calcium. A single teaspoon of sesame seeds has around 130 mg of calcium. Quite enough to be added to a fruit salad? Or maybe you can add it as a seasoning in your recipes.

Whole-grain foods like wheat have a high bioavailability of calcium that is equivalent to that of milk. However, on cooking, they tend to lose most of the calcium available.

Calcium in soy products

Even though soy products like tofu and soymilk are considered to be good dietary supplements for calcium, they can’t be entirely relied on as the calcium content of these products has been found to be quite variable. Also, most of it is available in the form of oxalates which tend to accumulate in the body due to lower digestibility. So, soymilk and tofu are being fortified to increase their calcium content and nutritive value.

Fortified foods

Apart from consuming calcium-rich foods, some foods like whole grains and yoghurt are fortified to increase their calcium content. Although, there is much debate on food fortification and whether it would provide more than the required amount of nutrients. Studies suggest that calcium fortification is a safe way to supply dietary calcium. However, excess calcium consumption does not decrease the chances of bone fractures as claimed by studies. It is best to refer to a nutritionist to know more about the benefits of calcium-fortified food.

Calcium is an essential nutrient that our body doesn’t make and is thus needed from food sources. Indian diet lacks calcium but a lot of Indian foods have rich calcium content. Milk and dairy products are usually the first choices for dietary calcium but fruits, vegetables and nuts can also provide varying amounts of this mineral. Daily recommended intake of calcium varies with age and calcium supplements are not as good as they are hyped to be. In fact, most of the calcium requirement can be fulfilled through food.

It is best to talk to a nutritionist to know the right calcium intake and food sources as per your convenience and choice.

References

  1. E. M. Balk et al. Global dietary calcium intake among adults: a systematic review . Osteoporos Int. 2017; 28(12): 3315–3324. PMID: 29026938
  2. National Institutes of Health; Office of Dietary Supplements. [Internet]. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services; Calcium.
  3. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. Basic Report: 09003, Apples, raw, with skin. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release [Internet]
  4. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. Basic Report: 09094, Figs, dried, uncooked. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release [Internet]
  5. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. Basic Report: 11457, Spinach, raw. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release [Internet]
  6. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. Basic Report: 11282, Onions, raw. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release [Internet]
  7. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. Basic Report: 11576, Turnip greens and turnips, frozen, unprepared. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Legacy Release [Internet]
  8. Lidia Wadolowska et al. Dairy Products, Dietary Calcium and Bone Health: Possibility of Prevention of Osteoporosis in Women: The Polish Experience. Nutrients. 2013 Jul; 5(7): 2684–2707. PMID: 23863825
  9. Elton Bahtiri et al. Calcium and Dairy Products Consumption and Association with Total Hip Bone Mineral Density in Women from Kosovo . Med Arch. 2014 Aug; 68(4): 259–262. PMID: 25568548
  10. Serge Rozenberg et al. Effects of Dairy Products Consumption on Health: Benefits and Beliefs—A Commentary from the Belgian Bone Club and the European Society for Clinical and Economic Aspects of Osteoporosis, Osteoarthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases . Calcif Tissue Int. 2016; 98: 1–17. PMID: 26445771
  11. Lee SG et al. Impact of orange juice consumption on bone health of the U.S. population in the national health and nutrition examination survey 2003-2006. . J Med Food. 2014 Oct;17(10):1142-50. PMID: 25055347
  12. Athanasios Karpouzos et al. Nutritional Aspects of Bone Health and Fracture Healing . J Osteoporos. 2017; 2017: 4218472. PMID: 29464131
  13. Peter Burckhardt et al. Calcium revisited, part III: effect of dietary calcium on BMD and fracture risk . Bonekey Rep. 2015; 4: 708. PMID: 26331006
  14. Hirvonen T et al. Efficacy and safety of food fortification with calcium among adults in Finland. Public Health Nutr. 2006 Sep;9(6):792-7. PMID: 16925886
  15. Neelam Aggarwal, Sudhaa Sharma. Calcium fortification or supplementation in postmenopausal females: Recent controversy . J Midlife Health. 2016 Apr-Jun; 7(2): 54–55. PMID: 27499589
  16. Health Harvard Publishing. Harvard Medical School [Internet]. Calcium and heart disease: What is the connection?. Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  17. Elias E. Mazokopakis, Triantafillos G. Giannakopoulos, Ioannis K. Starakis. Interaction between levothyroxine and calcium carbonate . Can Fam Physician. 2008 Jan; 54(1): 39 . PMID: 18208953
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