Milk and milk products are probably the most important source of calcium in the diet and few foods are more nourishing than milk. Calcium is needed to build and maintain healthy strong bones and the calcium in milk is easily absorbed. Milk is also an important source of protein, vitamins and other minerals. Choosing skimmed or semi-skimmed milk means you can reduce your fat intake without missing out on these essential nutrients. In fact, only vitamin A is lost as along with the fat. An adult requires about 700mg of calcium a day which can be obtained from drinking one pint of milk or by having three portions of milk products such as milk on cereal, a pot of yoghurt with lunch and a piece of cheese after dinner.
Dark green leafy vegetables are often recommended as being a good source of calcium, but be aware that just because some of these vegetables contain a lot of calcium, does not mean that the body is able to absorb it all. Take spinach for example, on paper it contains 170mg per 100g (more than milk), however, only about 2% of this is absorbed. This is because spinach and many other green vegetables contain high amounts of oxalic acid, which combines with calcium limiting its absorption. Broccoli is one of the few green vegetables to contain plenty of calcium but little oxalic acid, so a good 30% of the calcium is absorbed. One serving contains 132mg and delivers about 40mg. Broccoli is also an excellent source of vitamin C, beta-carotene, folate, iron and potassium
All fruit provide some calcium but figs are by far the richest source. Three dried figs deliver 77mg. Dried figs also contain pectin – a form of soluble fibre which can help to reduce blood cholesterol levels – and also insoluble fibre, which helps the movement of food through the gut, helping to prevent constipation and other bowel problems. A handful of dried figs will usually have a laxative effect while syrup of figs is a traditional remedy for constipation.
Olive oil spread
Vitamin D is another very important vitamin to ensure healthy bones. It is known as the sunshine vitamin as it can be produced by the exposure of the skin to sunlight. Vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium and phosphorus. Little vitamin D is stored in the body so exposure to the sun is needed every day but even in northern countries such as ours, 30 minutes exposure of the hands, arms and face is sufficient to make adequate amounts of vitamin D. People most at risk of deficiency are those who are compelled to stay indoors, such as the sick or elderly, or women who traditionally wear clothes, which almost completely cover them. In the UK, most dietary vitamin D comes from fortified foods such as margarine – which has to be fortified by law – and breakfast cereals. Other major dietary sources include eggs and oily fish.
Anchovies deliver a double whammy -they provide good amounts of calcium courtesy of their edible soft bones as well as plenty of vitamin D. For many people anchovies are an acquired taste as they are so salty and from a health point of view we should all be trying to reduce our salt intake for the sake of our hearts. The good news is that anchovies are so concentrated in nutrients, including protein, phosphorus, niacin (a B vitamin) and selenium, you only need to eat a very small amount to reap the benefits. Try scattering over a homemade vegetable pizza or thro a handful into a bowl of spicy tomato sauce with pasta.
Soyabeans and the derivative tofu are an extremely good source of calcium. The high consumption of soya in countries like China and Japan has been credited with their low rates of osteoporosis and other bone diseases, despite the fact that they traditionally consume hardly any milk or dairy products. Postmenopausal women over 50 years of age are especially vulnerable to osteoporosis, a bone-thinning disease, as a result of the rapid and progressive bone loss associated with the hormone oestrogen deficiency at menopause, followed by sustained bone loss with aging. As well as containing calcium, soyabeans are rich in substances known as phytoestrogens which are able to mimic the effects of oestrogen in the body and protect against the loss of excess calcium from bones.
Chickpeas are a good source of calcium, as well as phosphorus, another mineral important for bone health.
1) 200g canned chickpeas
2) 2 tbsp. lemon juice
3) 2 garlic cloves, crushed
4) 1 tsp. ground cumin
5) 100ml tahini
6) 4 tbsp. water
7) 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
8) 1 tsp paprika
Combine the chickpeas, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, tahini, and water in a food processor, and whiz to a creamy purée. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with paprika and serve with warmed pitta bread.