Monday, 10 September 2012

Can I interest you in a glass of broccoli?

Can I interest you in a glass of broccoli? Curly kale? Dried beans? No? Oh! That's a shame! These are some of the best sources of non-dairy calcium. Did you know that four and a half cups of broccoli are equal to the amount of calcium you'll find in a glass of milk? Now, I don't wish to alarm you, but that's quite a lot of broccoli isn't it? Now tell me how easy it is to get all your calcium from other sources, when you go dairy free!

Apparently, another source is beans. A lot of dairy free people tend to rely on soy beans for their dairy free substitutes. However, like many others who are dairy free, soy beans tend to have quite a nasty effect on me, so I don't think I'll be having those, thank you. And anyway, there's a problem with beans that I'll come to later.

I could have a glass of calcium enriched orange juice, but... I still can't cope very well with the orange stuff - following the tummy upset, that I caught the other year.

I don't know about you, but I keep coming across people, posts, sites that proclaim how easy it is to get your calcium from sources other than milk and how much better it is for you, anyway. 'Wow!' I've (nearly) thought, 'why did I ever drink milk at all? How did our mothers and grandmothers get it all so wrong?'

The thing is, I didn't think that. Partly because my Chinese mother-in-law now has to take calcium supplements on her doctor's orders, due to calcium deficiency, whilst my own mum has no problems, with her bones, whatsoever (my mother may have other health issues, but lack of calcium isn't one of them). I mention my mother-in-law's ethnicity, by the way, because the traditional Chinese diet often seems to be held up as the best example of a calcium-rich, milk free, diet. 

The other reason I don't agree that it is easy to get enough calcium from other sources is because I've been reading a range of articles, and, well... Can I just say lay my cards on the table right now, and just say that I'm downright sceptical about some of these claims? The way they're phrased, gives me an uncomfortable feeling that someone is trying to put across a particular agenda - the way they're worded they sound (to me) an awful lot like a publicity drive, rather than well-meant advice. 

I sometimes wonder if the people who write this stuff and make these kind of claims realise the impact they have on others. Look at it this way: 

I, as a busy mum, and one who is perhaps concerned about the lack of dairy in my child's diet (in terms of calcium) might be really excited seeing something like this. Not having the time to research the claims being made, or in fact have any clue that perhaps these claims might need to be investigated any further, might go my way in happy ignorance. And, what's more, might pass on those claims to someone else and be none the wiser that I was misleading someone else too. 

Now I'm not knocking those who think they've found something useful and pass it on, trying to be helpful, no I'm gunning for the people behind the original articles. 

Before you know it, everyone appears to be saying (and believing) the same thing, without knowing: 

1. Where it came from
2. Whether it is true              

I find this somewhat alarming! 

I don't know about you, but I want the truth! I want to be armed with the very best information, so that I can go out there and tackle this dairy free thing and not disappear off in what could be completely the wrong direction. It's for this reason, that I've been sticking with my very best friend - the calcium tablet (even though I have my concerns about that) whilst I try and work out exactly what the truth about calcium really is.

A short while ago, when I was researching my first post on calcium, I came across an article from a Canadian website. It was saying something that I was getting whispers of from other places - that a lot of the foods that everyone tells us are high in calcium (eg. spinach, soya) actually contain natural chemicals called 'phylates' and 'oxalates,' which can inhibit the body's ability to absorb calcium. In other words, oxalates are working against your best efforts!!        

Aaaagh! I can't tell you how much this frightened me!! So I sat on this information, (and kept taking my tablets) partly because I didn't want to frighten anyone else and partly because I was concerned that I might end up doing more harm than good! I was waiting for something else to come along and suggest a solution. And now I think I might have found one, or even some!

Food Preparation
Quite recently, I came across a website all about calcium, which was able to provide an answer about how to deal with the chemicals in food that block calcium absorption in the body. It's an old-fashioned technique that we probably all avoid these days, because juicing, wilting and steaming (steaming is usually my favourite option) is better for you. Right? 

Ah, no! Boiling is better, apparently, and chucking out the veggie water too - no using it for gravy now, y'all hear? If you want the full article, it can be found by following this link.  Mind you, you don't want to be overcooking the food, because that would take out other vital nutrients that your body needs.

Fermenting food is better, at reducing phylates, apparently, and fermenting soy (a natural source of calcium) is something that the South East Asians do very well - think miso and soy sauce.

Soaking and sprouting (beans, pulses etc.) are also ways of helping to overcome the problem.

However, I'm not sure that we should be 'chucking out the baby with the bath water' here - oxalate containing foods should not be seen as a 'problem'. One should not forget that the foods which contain oxalates also contain other nutrients (such as iron) that our bodies still need. There are other things that we can do to assist our bodies ability to absorb calcium.

Bio availabilty
It also helps to know which foods (that contain calcium) are best at allowing your body to extract the goodness that it needs. This is known as bio availability. I found a paper that detailed some of these foods and it turns out that broccoli** (one of my favourite veggies) is one of the best (hence my opening line)!

Maximize absorption
Another other string to the bow, is helping your body to absorb calcium more efficiently, by  ensuring you get sufficient Vitamin D, by eating leafy greens that contain Vitamin K* and by getting enough Vitamin A and magnesium - but not too much! Vitamin C is also apprently helpful. And guess what? All these vitamins and minerals are found in... broccoli!

Avoid calcium blockers
Finally, you need to avoid too many substances that inhibit your body from absorbing calcium -  such as caffeine, cola or chocolate (all contain oxalates) especially in meals that contain your doses of calcium (sigh). Bit of a shame that - I love my coffee, hot chocolate... and tea now you come to mention it! 

Phew! What a  lot to think about! 

Does it make you wonder how our ancestors ever coped - without modern nutritional advice! To be honest, I'm still not sure about some of it! You see researchers, including those who operate from top universities, are often sponsored by those who have a vested interest. Get my drift? 

So, I think I'll be sticking to trying to eat as balanced a diet as I can (bearing in mind certain intolerances that I have) and for now, at least, I'll be sticking to the calcium tablets (with Vitamin D) that I was recommended to take in the first place! 

Oh! And I'll keep eating broccoli!

How about you?

P.S. If you want a rough idea about the quantity of calcium you consume, Calcium Calculators like this (Canadian) one may give you some idea.

Please note: I am not an 'expert' on nutrition and am unable to vouch for the links that I have supplied. For proper medical advice, please consult a properly qualified dietitian.

*If you're taking Warfarin you will probably already be aware that it is advisable to be careful about Vitamin K.

**Unfortunately, broccoli can apparently be unhelpful for those with thyroid problems.

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