Published on December 13th, 2011 | by Heather Nicholds2
Eating Vegan: Uncovering Causes of Calcium Deficiency
If you’re vegan or just don’t drink milk, you might be worried about developing calcium deficiency. However, there are plenty of excellent vegan sources of calcium, like cruciferous vegetables and dark leafy greens, and plenty of amazing ways to eat them like the sesame steamed broccoli recipe pictured above.
If you’re including lots of vegetable sources of calcium in your diet, your intake should be fine. The thing is, calcium deficiency actually happens more often because your body isn’t using or absorbing it properly.
Calcium is a really difficult mineral for our bodies to get out of our food, absorb and use. There are some nutrients that can get in the way of your body’s ability to use calcium, and other nutrients that your body needs in order to use calcium and maintain bone health and density.
Most of the time, if someone has (or thinks they have) a calcium deficiency, they jump to calcium supplements when they should really be looking at the root cause of calcium deficiency instead. And so many of the supplements you buy in the store are bad quality and don’t get used by your body.
Low liver function or low stomach acid levels are a really common cause of calcium deficiency. Making sure that your stomach is active enough is the first thing to look at in correcting a deficiency.
Taking a digestive enzyme is a great way to help your stomach keep up, although eating smaller meals with simple food combinations is even more helpful. If you think your liver is causing the hold up, you might want to take an herbal liver cleansing supplement.
The best idea would be to see a naturopath or holistic nutritionist to find the root cause of your symptoms, imbalances and nutrient deficiencies.
Calcium’s interaction with other nutrients
Excess phosphorus (lots in bran, wheat germ, cheese, soybeans, bacon) displaces calcium (takes its place in your body), and foods with oxalic acid (rhubarb, raw spinach, chocolate) interfere with the absorption of calcium. If you eat too many of these foods, they might cause calcium deficiency.
A lack of or magnesium or vitamin D can be an indirect cause of calcium deficiency since those nutrients are necessary for calcium to be used in your body. Without them, it doesn’t matter how much calcium you eat – it won’t get to where you need it.
You can get some vitamin D from sunshine, but it’s usually a good idea to take a supplement, especially if you live in the northern hemisphere.
Magnesium is easy to get from healthy whole plant foods. Whole grains and dark green vegetables are high in magnesium. The cool thing is that they’re also a great way to get calcium on a vegan diet.
Poor quality calcium supplement
There are lots of poor calcium/magnesium supplements out there in the following forms: carbonate, oxide, gluconate, citrate, and dicalcium phosphate. Citrate is okay but may give you a headache or make you feel tired.
If your daily calcium/magnesium supplement fits into 1 pill, something is wrong. Quality calcium takes space, especially because you don’t want it compressed down into a dense, non-absorbable tablet. You want to always accompany your calcium a with magnesium and vitamin D supplement for better absorption.
The best way to maintain a healthy calcium level is through lots of good quality fresh vegetables and fruit, along with a variety of grains, beans, nuts and seeds. If you’re doing that and still have low calcium levels, take a look at your digestion, the levels of other nutrients that can help or hinder calcium absorption as possibilities for the root cause of calcium deficiency. If you need to take a supplement, be sure that it’s a really high quality one.
Image credit: Heather Nauta of Healthy Vegan Recipes