But it isn’t just older women who need sufficient calcium circulating in their blood for physiological functions like blood clotting, nerve conduction, muscle contraction, enzyme activity, and cell membrane function. We all need it, from babies to elderlies, boys and men as well as girls and women.
Pregnant women need to get enough calcium for their own body's needs, as well as those of the baby developing inside her. And young children need plenty of calcium in the first five years of life to build their growing bones and teeth, as well as their central nervous systems.
And when it comes to building strong bones, the more calcium laid down before the age of 35, the better structure there will be to deal with later deprivations. After about 35, the depletions are greater than the additions when it comes to calcium and bones.
Although it’s well-known that women are at risk of osteoporosis after menopause, when oestrogen’s protective power is removed, it’s not so well-known that men can get osteoporosis, too. In either case, when the dietary intake of calcium is too low to maintain normal blood levels of calcium, the body draws on calcium stored in the bones to maintain normal blood concentrations, and after many years, this can lead to osteoporosis.
However, our bones can be strengthened right through to old age with a good calcium-rich diet and resistance exercises.
Cheese, Yoghurt, Milk (and Dairy Milk Chocolate)
Dairy farmers, food manufacturers and chocolate companies would like us to believe that dairy products are the best sources of calcium. And, as one who grew up in a dairying state that produces some of the world’s finest cheeses and ‘gourmet’ cream, and who still has a soft spot for dairy farmers (and for a chocolate company that promotes the “glass and a half of full-cream dairy milk in every block”), I have to admit they have a point.
But dairy products are not the best sources of calcium, and they are generally high in fat – at least all the good tasting ones are! Then there’s the problem of lactose–intolerant people and vegans. How are they to get enough calcium without going to supplements?
Strangely enough – the same way as dairy cows do!
Eat Green for Good Calcium Intake
I’m not suggesting we all get down and attempt to graze our lawns or the grass in our local park, but it turns out that bright green and dark green vegetables are the best way to eat calcium.
There are some non-green foods (apart from dairy), but green is go when you’re chasing calcium.
Excellent sources of calcium include spinach, turnip greens, mustard greens and collard greens. Very good sources include Swiss chard (silverbeet), kale, basil, thyme, and, surprisingly, peppermint leaves.
(For an in-depth look at the health benefits of Swiss chard, see my article Swiss Chard - Phytonutrient Power for Diabetic and Bone Health. )
Good calcium sources include romaine lettuce, celery, broccoli, fennel, cabbage, green beans, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, oregano, rosemary, parsley, kombu, and kelp.
Non-green foods that have surprising amounts of calcium are blackstrap molasses, almonds, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, sesame seeds, garlic, tofu, oranges, summer squash, crimini mushrooms, dill seed, cinnamon and dried figs.
So, to the recipes. Although I’ve just finished up the last of a delicious home-made spanakopitta, in which lots of dark green silverbeet combined with three types of cheese for a calcium-rich savoury dish, I won’t give that recipe, as it would discriminate against people who don’t eat dairy. Instead, I offer these:
Stir-Fried Green Vegetables with Tofu and Almonds
This is a basic stir-fry in which you use as many different green vegs as you have in the fridge, together with garlic, ginger, tofu and almonds. All the quantities are estimates.
- About 500 grams (1 lb) of green vegs – broccoli, broccolini, bok choy, choy sum, spinach, silverbeet, washed dried, stems cut into similar sized pieces, & leaves roughly torn
- 2 cloves of garlic or more if you like it, crushed,
- 250 grams (8 oz) firm tofu, in small cubes,
- 2 teasp finely grated fresh ginger,
- 1 tablesp soy sauce or tamari
- About 2 tablesp cooking oil (a biggish slurp)
- 1 teasp sesame oil
- 2 tablespoon of almonds, can be blanched & slivered or left whole
Heat the oil in the wok and add the ginger and garlic. Cook over high heat for a minute, stirring. Add tofu cubes and stir-fry for about 3 minutes. Remove tofu with a slotted spoon and keep warm.
Add the vegetable stems to the hot oil and stirfry for one to two minutes (no more). Add the leaves and wilt them in the hot oil. Toss in the almonds. Toss the tofu cubes back in and pour over the soy sauce/tamari and the sesame oil. Toss all together to combine and serve immediately on steamed rice or noodles.
Provençal Parsley Soup
This is one to make if you have masses of parsley growing in your garden, or have just bought a huge bunch of it at the market. This is another with estimates for quantities.
- About 800 grams (1½ lb) mashing potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes
- A very large bunch of parsley – at least several handfuls when chopped
- About 2 tablesp butter or olive oil
- Garlic (optional, but if using, put in at least 2 cloves, crushed)
- Stock to just cover potatoes, with more kept hot
- Salt & pepper
Cook potatoes in as little stock as possible until soft enough to mash. Mash or puree with the garlic and the butter/olive oil. Mix in the chopped parsley, and simmer with a little extra stock for five to 10 minutes.
Adjust seasonings, add more hot stock if soup seems too thick. Serve with crusty bread.