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A match made in heaven

Anneloes van Iwaarden is introducing not one but two very special relationships in the wonderfully complex world of nutrients.

Nope, this is not some random relationship-advice column. I’m actually introducing not one but two very special relationships (there are many more!) in the wonderfully complex world of nutrients, please meet our first match made in heaven: Calcium and Vitamin D.

Calcium and Vitamin D

Calcium is all about bones and teeth. In fact, this is where the body stores about 99% of its calcium. The remaining 1% is used for heart, muscles, blood and nerves. The thing about this magical mineral is that our bodies cannot produce it by themselves, so we need to get it from outside sources (food or supplements).

Taken as a whole, there’s general consensus as to how much calcium is needed on a daily basis. Adults (the 19–50 year-olds) need 1000mg of calcium a day to keep bones, teeth and metabolism in good working order.

Females aged over 50 are recommended a daily 1200mg and teens require around 1300mg. Too little calcium in adults could eventually lead to osteoporosis (reduced density and quality of bones). On the hand, too much can adversely affect your bones (and the rest of you).

So never go beyond the max of 2500mg daily intake. OK, so much for the background info. What I really wanted to know is how do I get my calcium on a daily basis without breaking the OMS rulebook?

Did you know that broccoli is one of the many veggies that is rich in calcium? Other dark-green leafy vegetables like kale and arugula are too! Edamame, tofu, sardines – it’s all about the edible bones – dried figs, almonds, and bok choy all featured on the endless top-10 lists of top-rated calcium foods I consulted online.

And let’s not forget plant-based drinks fortified with calcium; they are a great alternative to dairy. High time to introduce calcium’s main significant other: Vitamin D.

Vitamin D is essential for optimum calcium uptake in our bodies and lack of it causes our bones to soften leading to an increased risk of bone fractures. Fortunately for me (and the length of this post) the OMS program places a great deal of emphasis on getting enough vitamin D into our bodies andBaked Fish with Lemon and Mint the OMS website already has tons of info on it. In summary though: eating fatty fish (salmon, mackerel) is a really good way of getting some natural vitamin D from food. Couple this with soaking up some daily sunrays and taking those all-important vitamin D3 supplements, and the calcium+vit D equation is just about sorted.

Just one final point to make: besides meeting the daily requirements for calcium and vitamin D intake, healthy bones (and bodies and minds) also require regular exercise. Moreover, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption have a detrimental effect on your bone density.

If, after all this, you’re still up for finding out more about the second nutrient couple of the month, I’d be happy to introduce them to you now: please give a warm welcome to… Iron and Vitamin C.

Iron and Vitamin C

My knowledge of iron didn’t extend much beyond what its symbol is on the periodic table (which is Fe, in case you’re wondering). During secondary school my friend and I used to make up stories to remember each of the elements.

For iron our 13-year-old selves thought up the following: Fences are usually made of iron. Take the first two letters of fence and hey presto: element 26 Iron is Fe. Chemistry wasn’t my best subject in school.

'Moving on. Iron is extremely important in our diets. Put simply, it is needed to carry oxygen to lungs and muscles; it’s an essential component of oxygen-binding proteins in the body called haemoglobin and myoglobin.'

Moving on. Iron is extremely important in our diets. Put simply, it is needed to carry oxygen to lungs and muscles; it’s an essential component of oxygen-binding proteins in the body called haemoglobin and myoglobin. Lack of this mineral may cause iron-deficiency anaemia and, in time, even lead to organ failure if left untreated. Daily intake recommendations for healthy individuals fluctuate according to age and gender.

And although there are slight variations in recommendations across different countries, the general range we should be thinking of is 8-9mg daily intake for male adults and 15-18mg for female adults (19-50 year-olds). After menopause, the recommended intake for females is reduced to the 9mg range. Iron can be easily obtained from your diet. There are two forms of dietary iron: heme and non-heme iron.

Heme iron (present in animal foods including fish) is more easily absorbed than the iron found in plant-based foods, which is called non-heme iron. In general, if you eat a well-balanced and varied diet (and stick to the daily recommendations) you will likely get enough iron into your system.

But variation is key; contrary to popular belief (and to what Popeye claims), iron isn’t only about spinach. Red meat isn’t your only option either; seafood is also a good (and OMS-friendly) source of heme iron (especially clams, mussels, oysters and shrimp).

But most of your iron will come from the non-heme form found in dark-green leafy vegetables (cooked spinach of course, but also cooked swiss chard or beet greens), grains, rice, wheat, oats, beans and dried fruit (raisins, apricots).

And this is where iron calls upon partner and all-time BFF vitamin C to step in. Because in order to boost the absorption of iron into our systems, it is best to eat high-iron foods together with foods rich in vitamin C. Unless Popeye secretly ate grapefruit for breakfast and/or added some broccoli or cauliflower to his canned (!) spinach snacks every day, I for one am not buying the day-in-day-out bulging muscles thing.

Actually, it’s not only citrus fruits that are considered rich in vitamin C (over 20% of your daily intake); other fruits also qualify, like strawberries, blackberries and kiwi fruit.

More foods with good Vitamin C content: tomatoes (yes, I know from a lost Trivial pursuit game that tomatoes are also officially a fruit), radishes, sweet potatoes, tofu, and beans. I’m (accidentally on purpose) forgetting one last veggie on the list of high-ranking vitamin C foods, but that’s because I’ve only tried the slimy version and I found it absolutely disgusting: okra. But just in case you’re a fan; cooked okra is also actually known for its vitamin C goodness.

So where to go from here? If there’s one thing my brief examination into nutrition has taught me it is that balance and variety in our diets is crucial (as are all the lifestyle choices we make along the way). The other thing it has taught me: the world of nutrition and diet remains highly confusing. Whilst researching this piece, for example, I found that spinach is not a good source of calcium (because of the oxalates), but then it is featured on all the great-source-of-iron lists I consulted.

And then I read a bit on how iron absorption is impeded if we eat calcium-rich foods at the same time. At that point in time I was about to throw my laptop across the room. Fortunately, after I calmed down a bit (I drank a glass of almond milk), I realised it’s not about meticulously measuring out nutritional values or getting super charged on so-called super-foods.

All we need to do is branch out a bit (diet-wise) and diversify. Now I may not be a chemistry buff or nutrition expert, but that I can do. Time to sign up for a copy of the OMS Cookbook

Anneloes van Iwaarden 


diet Vitamin D
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