While there are many nutrients critical for our health, calcium and vitamin D are the two that I find my clients struggle most to get enough of.
In the process of removing dairy or animal foods from their diets — either because of a food intolerance or personal preferences — they end up depriving themselves. In most cases, I find it's simply because they are unaware of the many alternate dietary sources.
As a result, it seems as though every one of my clients is deficient in vitamin D, and the majority have below average bone mineral density.
While it's widely known that calcium and vitamin D are critical for building healthy bones, they also do so much more to maintain health. As a food scientist and nutritionist, here's what I tell my clients about these crucial nutrients:
What You Need to Know About Calcium
Calcium is by far the most abundant mineral in the body, and 99 percent of it is stored in the bones and teeth. The remaining 1 percent is found in the fluids that bathe and fill the cells in the body. This reservoir of calcium is critical for nerve cell transmission, blood pressure maintenance, blood clotting, and muscle contraction (and therefore, your heartbeat).
Plus, calcium enables the secretion of hormones, digestive enzymes, and neurotransmitters. And studies are emerging to suggest that calcium deficiency is associated with a number of major illnesses including high blood pressure, colon cancer, and diabetes.
How To Get More: The good news is, even if you avoid dairy, obtaining dietary calcium through alternative sources isn’t as hard as you may think. Significant quantities can be found in tofu; green vegetables such as broccoli, kale, and collard greens; figs; oranges; sardines; canned salmon; almonds; and white beans.
What You Need to Know About Vitamin D
While calcium is a critical dietary component, vitamin D (theoretically) is not. That's because with enough exposure to sunlight, your body can make all the vitamin D it needs.
Unfortunately, blood levels of this vitamin have been declining due to lack of sun exposure and the rising obesity epidemic. Since vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, it's easily trapped in fat cells and thus less available in the blood — where it's needed to regulate blood calcium and maintain bone integrity.
Plus, vitamin D also functions as a hormone once activated by sunlight. In this way, it affects how cells grow, multiply, and specialize. Not only is vitamin D deficiency a risk factor for osteoporosis, but epidemiological studies and randomized, controlled trials suggest a correlation with diseases including cardiovascular disease, some cancers, respiratory infections, and multiple sclerosis.
How To Get More: Dietary sources of vitamin D include cod liver oil, sardines, salmon, mackerel, tuna, and fortified foods like milk, orange juice, and cereals. If these foods don't appeal to you, then just five minutes of direct sunlight without sunscreen, or 10 to 30 minutes with sunscreen, for light-skinned people will promote the synthesis of several days' worth of vitamin D.
Since the pigments of darker skin protect against UV irradiation, dark-skinned people require up to three hours of direct sunlight to produce a comparable amount of vitamin D. But there are also other factors that could interfere with this conversion, like advanced age, pollution, mobility, season, and the time of day.
To ensure you get enough vitamin D, have your levels checked at your annual physical. If your blood levels are under 40 ng/ml then you may need to take a supplement of 1,000 to 5,000 IUs per day. However, since this vitamin is the most potentially toxic among vitamins, it should only be taken on an as-needed basis.
- 5 Reasons Vitamin D Is Even More Important Than You Think
- 10 Signs You’re Not Getting Enough Calcium + What To Do About It
- 7 Nutrients You Need For Optimal Health + How To Get More Of Them
Photo Credit: Stocksy