Unconventional calcium

SardinesEarlier this month, I wrote about calcium sources.  The usual suspects — dairy foods and greens — with some twists (Greek style yogurt doesn’t have as much as regular).  Which got me thinking about other food sources you may not think about.

Such as gnawing on bones.  Just joking, sort of.  For some reason I was thinking about Paleo diets, as in real Paleolithic people.  They lived in harsh conditions, scrounging for whatever food they could find.  They didn’t have fancy chef’s knives to slice up deer or antelope of whatever other animals they killed.  They needed to just pick up a chunk of the animal and start chewing.  In that situation, when you get down to the bone and you’re hungry enough, you might just keep on gnawing.  So along with the meat, you could get a little bit of the calcium from the animal’s bones.

Which brings us to a modern version of this process: canned fish.  In particular, canned sardines and canned salmon.  Typically those include the fishes’ bones, softened by the cooking process and as a result a significant source of calcium.  One small can of sardines, drained of the oil, leaving about 3 oz of sardines, has 350 mg of calcium, more than a glass of milk.  Added bonus: protein, omega-3 fats, iron, potassium and B12, to name a few key nutrients.  Three ounces of canned salmon has about 210 mg, more than a 6 oz container of Greek style yogurt.  Of course, that’s assuming you don’t pick the bones out of the salmon.

Here’s a food source you might not think of: fortified cereals.  TOTAL is absolutely stuffed with calcium, with 1000 mg in a serving.  Assuming you pour milk on your TOTAL, you’re up to about 1300 mg in one meal.  There’s a catch here: you can only absorb so much calcium at one time, roughly 500 mg.  If you’re going to rely on fortified cereal, a better plan would be to find a cereal with a more modest calcium content.  There are several options, from Special K to Cream of Wheat.  Look for a calcium content of about 20-30% of the Daily Value on the Nutrition Facts panel.  That’s plenty at one time, especially if you put milk on the cereal.

Most nuts have some calcium, but sesame seeds stand out with the highest concentration.  Tahini, which is sesame seed butter, is going to be a more effective source because the seeds are finely ground.  2 tablespoons — the amount you might use on a sandwich or toasted bagel — has about 130 mg.  Chia seeds have a similar calcium content, about 65 mg in a tablespoon.  If you add chia to foods like cereal or yogurt or a smoothie, you’re also adding calcium

Plenty of other processed foods are fortified with calcium, from orange juice to snack bars.  If you dislike dairy foods, or just want more variety, those can contribute significant calcium.  But keep this in mind: it’s not much different from just taking a calcium supplement.  You could take a supplement with a glass of regular unfortified OJ and get the same effect.

Take Away Message

We don’t need to gnaw on bones.  We’ve got more options for calcium these days.  Natural food sources like milk and cheese are great, but there are other unconventional food sources.  If you’re a numbers person, a calcium intake of 300-500 mg at any one meal is a good goal.

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