THE ROLE OF CALCIUM IN PREGNANCY
Calcium is a mineral that cannot be made in the body but it is one of the most abundant, making up 1-2% of body weight. It is vital for a healthy pregnancy.
Calciums' many jobs...
We recognise calcium as being mostly responsible for bone mineralization - maintaining its strength and density. This is true but to complete it's job, it is necessary for other nutrients and minerals like vitamin D, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and copper to be present. This is why nutrients that work together are often found in the same whole foods at optimum levels. This is not the case in fortified foods.
Supporting the muscular and nervous system - calcium in the blood helps to ensure adequate muscle contraction and nerve cell signalling. Abnormal calcium concentrations result in muscle spasms and unreliable communication from the nerve cells.
Achieving healthy alkaline/acid blood level - calcium controls the pH of the blood, which is of critical importance in sustaining life and managing processes such as breathing rate for example.
Sources of calcium
We often hear that we must eat dairy products to increase our calcium intake and to prevent the development of osteoporosis - this isn't exactly the case.
There are many other more abundant sources of calcium that can be included in your diet, without relying solely on dairy - spinach for example.
It is true that dairy sources of calcium are slightly better absorbed and if eating dairy is something you enjoy, natural full-fat organic yoghurt is the best option for increasing calcium intake. This will also boost your probiotic profile.
Lesser recognised calcium rich foods (more calcium per calorie than milk products) are;
rosemary So, if you don’t like dairy, are allergic, lactose intolerant or simply don’t want
to include too many animal/dairy products in your diet while pregnant, then don’t worry, there are plenty of other options to help you reach your recommended intake without including fortified foods or extra supplements. Most of these sources, if eaten in their natural whole state also increase your fibre intake - essential throughout pregnancy.
Do we need to increase our calcium intake throughout pregnancy?
During pregnancy, hormones adapt and develop a way for the mother’s body to efficiently absorb and utilise the calcium which is taken in via food. Calcium is extremely vital for the mother and baby, (especially in the last 3rd trimester) and deficiency though rare, can lead to problems.
Calcium is vital for;
the baby’s bone development
protecting the mother’s bone density
preventing premature labour and high blood pressure
ensuring a good birth weight
helping with blood clotting
A pregnant mother needs 1000 mg a day (the same if not pregnant). But if you are pregnant and under 18 years old, you need 300 mg more (1300 mg per day). As long as you have a healthy, varied diet, complete with all the sources listed above and more, this daily requirement can be achieved easily through food. If this is a struggle for any reason, a balanced pregnancy supplement will cover these needs.
Calcium depletion - how to avoid it
It’s not just a question of eating enough calcium rich foods to rich 1000mg per day - it’s also important to help maintain levels by avoiding calcium depleting habits that affect absorption, deposition and excretion throughout this delicate stage.
How to avoid calcium depletion and maintain adequate levels;
Limit caffeine intake (one cup a day, after the first trimester)
Do not eat processed foods that contain excessive sodium
Stop drinking fizzy beverages
Eat a normal amount of protein at each meal, but not excessively
Include vitamin D rich foods ( as these can be difficult find in foods and if you are living in a northern country)
Eat calcium rich whole foods - where there is an optimal relationship with the other nutrients present
Make sure you don’t have a problem with inadequate stomach acid secretion - this can limit calcium absorption
If taking extra supplements, especially vitamin D, magnesium, zinc or iron, make sure they don’t exceed the upper tolerable level where they begin to compete with calcium. They should be in a healthy proportion to allow them to compliment each other and play their individual roles. It is best to consult a professional when taking extra supplements.
Tips for boosting your daily calcium consumption
Introduce more calcium rich herbs and spices, instead of salt to your food;
Add cinnamon to your smoothies and to your (one cup) of coffee a day ( this will also help balance your blood sugars)
Sprinkle rosemary on fruits and vegetables
As a delicious snack, eat some basil based pesto with raw vegetables
To create a creamy texture in desserts, dressings and sauces, add a tablespoon of tahini dressing instead of dairy (milk, cream, cheese)
Massaged kale, tahini (sesame seed paste) and lemon juice salad