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Calcium Concerns

Many of us with allergies feel that we're eating pretty healthy diets compared to the rest of the people around us. However, what we neglect to realize is how many essential vitamins and minerals are absent from our diets. Prepackaged food is often enriched, and, aside from common allergens, is packed full of extra ingredients that are essential for our bodies.

Because dairy is a common allergen, one of the main minerals that may be absent from our diets is calcium. If you are like me, you might try to "ignore" the fact that your diet is lacking in certain essential vitamins and minerals. Because of this, I was diagnosed with osteopenia at a time when my bones should have been at peak condition. This means my bones are less dense than the average woman my age, more liable to break, and that I may develop osteoporosis at a young age. This was a wake-up call to me, and I hope my experience will help convince disbelievers out there that this can happen to you . . . but you can take steps to prevent it. As people with allergies, we need to be more keenly aware of how our diets can impact our overall health.

What Your Doctor Can Do

There are two very helpful tests your doctor can perform to see if your calcium intake needs to be increased. These tests are done in no particular order; on me they were performed in the reverse of what is listed.

1) A blood test can be performed in order to see how high or low your blood calcium level is. By observing this level, a doctor may or may not make recommendations about supplements. Researchers now believe that calcium is not alone in bone production, so you may be tested for levels of other vitamins and minerals. If the levels are not ideal, you may be advised to increase your intake of other vitamins or minerals, such as Vitamin D.

2) If there is adequate concern, a bone density test may be ordered. This will give answers about how dense your bones are (usually in the spine and hips).

Now What?

The main question you will probably have, if you find out your calcium intake is too low, is "now what?" Finding a source of calcium can seem overwhelming and impossible--it took 14 years before I successfully started on a source of calcium that didn't make me ill!

You will need to talk to your doctor to come up with a plan and ask for specific numbers for the milligrams of each vitamin or mineral s/he wishes for you to intake. Your doctor will likely discuss two ways to get calcium into your diet:

1) Through food

2) Through supplements

Food

You can get calcium from the food you eat. You may be given a list of foods that contain calcium. If your list is like the one I received, probably everything on the list reads like this: yogurt, milk, mozarella cheese, cheddar cheese, Swiss cheese, butter. . . . Not very helpful, right? In fact, the FDA list contains foods like milk, bread, tofu (soy), and nuts.

To drive the point home, let's take a look at the FDA information on calcium in foods . . . minus the dairy products and other common allergens (please don't get upset that corn and potato are in the list . . . not everyone with allergies is allergic to corn or potato and may be interested in this information).

FOOD QUANTITY % DAILY NEEDED CALCIUM
Blackeye peas/cow peas 1/2 cup
2
Bok choy 1/2 cup
10
Broccoli (medium-sized stalk) 1 stalk
6
Carrot (medium-sized and fresh) 2 carrots
2
Collards 1/2 cup
20
Corn tortilla (medium size) 3 tortillas
8
Corn tortilla chip 1 ounce
4
Figs (dried) 2 figs
6
Green beans 3/4 cup
2
Green peas 1/2 cup
2
Kale 2/3 cup
10
Kiwi (medium-sized) 2 kiwis
4
Lettuce (iceberg or loose leaf) 1 1/2 cup
2-6
Orange (medium-sized) 1 orange
4
Orange juice 1 cup
2
Potato (medium-sized) 1 potato
2
Rice (cooked) 2/3 cup
2
Strawberries (medium-sized) 8 strawberries
2
Turnip greens 2/3 cup
15
(Data above is from the FDA. Permission has been granted.)

Looks okay, right? However, I ran some math on the statistics above, and the results are a bit surprising. Here are the quantities a person would need to consume in order to have the full quantity of calcium needed from each of the food items listed above. As you read the list, consciously think about ingesting the amount required to intake 100% of your needed calcium.

FOOD HOW MUCH PER DAY FOR 100% RDA
Blackeye peas/cow peas
25 cups
Bok choy
5 cups
Broccoli
16.667 medium-sized stalks
Carrot
100 medium-sized fresh carrots
Collards
2.5 cups
Corn tortilla
37.5 medium-sized corn tortillas
Corn tortilla chips
1 pound 9 ounces
Figs
33.3 dried figs
Green beans
37.5 cups
Green peas
25 cups
Kale
3.3 cups
Kiwi
50 medium-sized kiwis
Lettuce
25-75 cups of iceberg or loose leaf
Orange
25 medium-sized oranges
Orange juice
50 cups
Potato
50 medium-sized potatoes
Rice
33.3 cups cooked rice
Strawberries
400 medium-sized strawberries
Turnip greens
4.44 cups

If you're like me, you probably realize that your diet would have to change drastically in order to be able to get calcium from a food source--even if we mixed the foods above and didn't get the calcium from only one source. Current studies are showing that food is the best way to get it, though, so don't give up on eating safe foods that contain calcium. Just realize that you may never get up to an optimum amount of calcium with the foods, and may need something else.

Supplements

Supplements for calcium are chock-full of allergens, from soy to--most ironically--milk. It was disappointing for me to go through a recommended list I received from my doctor and say "no" to every item on the list. The list I received (not from the FDA) contained recommended brands, and I already knew all of them contained at least one of my allergens.

One doctor, knowing about my allergy, recommended that I take a supplement which is made from milk--he didn't know that, of course. Do not rely on a doctor to know which calcium supplements are free of food ingredients . . . most won't know anything about the inactive ingredients. You will likely need to research this on your own.

The ideal supplement for most people with multiple food allergies might be exclusively calcium in a powder form, or (to be more palatable) the pure powder form within a vegetable- or meat-based gel-cap. That is because this will be free from inactive ingredients (other than the gel cap content). However, finding such a supplement that is this undiluted is near impossible. I have been able to find only one that exists at this time.

If you can't find a supplement, there is still an option: make them yourself. Do this with the approval of your doctor, because it will be easy to accidentally take the wrong dosage when formulating your own supplements. The one I went to double-checked the math. To make your own, find gel-caps for sale online or through a store (health food stores often carry these for people who make their own herbal supplements). If you're allergic to meats, look for vegetable-based gel-caps. If you're allergic to plant matter, look for meat-based gel-caps. Write to the company to get information about the ingredients if they are not clear.

Check around for pure powdered calcium with no other ingredients. Then, with a doctor's approval on the dosage, pack up those gel-caps!

As alluded to earlier, you can also take calcium in a powdered form without putting it into a gel cap. Some people put it in liquid (a drink), but this is not always very tasty. Others bake it into baked goods, but then the dosage can be tricky to monitor. The best thing, though, is to find something that works for you, longterm.

In Closing

I hope that this article helps encourage you to look closely at your diet and be concerned about your vitamin and mineral intake.

I'm happy to report that the last time I was told about my blood tests for calcium, I first had too much, and then had a normal level. While getting calcium directly from foods may be the best way, supplements can help, too.

Good luck!


The information on this website is not meant to be perceived as medical information and is not to replace information received from a medical professional. If you have questions, speak to your doctor.

Written and copyright by Melissa J. Taylor, November 8, 2007. Calcium recommendations may have changed--visit the FDA's website for the most current data.

This website is for personal support information only. Nothing should be construed as medical advice.