When you think of getting more CALCIUM into your daily food regime, do you default to increasing your dairy consumption?
By Kathryn Cavanaugh
We have been programmed to believe that increasing your dairy products is just what the doctor ordered.
I am going to offer an upgrade. Think beyond the saturated fat-filled milk, cheese and yogurt and opt for something more nutrient dense without all the sludge.
Here is the skinny of Calcium!
Harder than lead but not naturally found in its elemental state, Calcium (Ca) is the fifth most abundant element by mass in the earth’s crust. It might however be surprising to note, it is as well the 5th most abundant element by mass in the human body … Besides LOVE of course! Calcium is essential for living organisms — that means you and me babe! While 99% of the total calcium in our bodies is stored in our bones and teeth, the remaining 1% is found throughout the body in blood, muscle and the fluid in between cells. But do not be fooled by that little bugger. That simple little unit does a HUGE job in making sure we wake up every morning. Calcium is needed for muscle contraction, blood vessel contraction and expansion, the secretion of hormones and enzymes, sending messages through the nervous system, and blood clotting just to name the top functions. These bodily functions are required to play or … GAME OVER. A constant level of calcium is maintained in body fluid and tissues so that these vital body processes function efficiently. This is why we really super-duper love Calcium.
Calcium and Vitamin D — The LOVE Affair!:
These two complimentary elements really do wonders for your overall functioning, and will show you the love if you treat them right – meaning take them together! For Calcium to be correctly absorbed in your body, it requires as adequate intake of Vitamin D. When consumed jointly, Vitamin D is converted to a hormone in the body which then induces the synthesis of intestinal proteins which absorb the calcium and then take it along it’s merry way in your body. When we have insufficient calcium absorption and there is no play between our two love birds, the body must take calcium from its skeletal stores to perform all it’s bodily tasks, which in turn weakens existing bone and prevents formation of strong, new bone. We all know where this is going –THE BIG O! No, not the fun “BIG O” … The other “O” that causes hip fractures from doing the bump with your six-year old. Nobody needs to be welcoming in the grim reaper’s distant cousin, Osteoporosis. We are not interested in anybody from that family… EVER!
Oh where, Oh where did my little Vitamin D go … Oh where, oh where did you go?:
The body needs Vitamin D to absorb Calcium! There are three ways to get it: through the skin, from the diet, and from supplements. Macrobiotics prefer to start with ways one and two, through the skin and diet. When I say we get Vitamin D through the skin, I am not referring to $1,000 creams at Neimans, I am referring to that big guy in the sky – Father Sun! Here again we are confronted with another default to which I would like to offer an upgrade. The Sun is NOT the devil!!! The Sun is your friend! It warms the planet and basically provides for lots of really good stuff here – like Vitamin D. Your whole opinion may change after I tell you that Vitamin D is in fact formed naturally by the body AFTER exposure to sunlight from your friend, the Sun. Pretty Neat Trick – Right! A mere 15 minutes in the morning sun a few times a week WITHOUT sunscreen will do the trick — DON’T SHOOT ME for saying this … a mere 15 minutes will do ya’! For many people this little sliver of potential fame is plenty for our bodies to manufacture and store all the Vitamin D they need (between 400 – 800 IU a day). Food of course is our other favorite source and can be found in egg yolks, saltwater fish, liver (a.k.a Truffle Mouse Pate) and fortified milk.
Why dairy products are an INFERIOR source of Calcium:
Humans are among of a small group of animals on this planet that consume the milk of another animal. This is how I explain it to my girlfriends. If you are consuming dairy products to get calcium, why not choose the original source? What does the cow eat? GRASS … a green, leafy vegetable grown from the earth’s Calcium rich crust and rich in Vitamin D from it’s daily sunbathing. We know now the Calcium/Vitamin D love connection is critical to our essential bodily functions. So, the cow eats the grass which then passes through stomach number one, and so on and so on … all the way through the cows digestive tract to become a by-product of the cow = milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, etc. When our aim is to improve our entire bodily function by increasing our Calcium, what are we really getting when we eat our daily Yoplait? We are getting Calcium that was PRE-digested by Bessie! That Calcium has to get through at least eight stomachs before it hits yours. YUCK – except not so yuck when the Calcium is in my latte or ice cream sandwich, of course. My whole point is to skip the bovine rollercoaster and opt for the original source, like green leafy vegetables (kale, collard greens, broccoli) or tofu, salmon, sea vegetables, nuts, or sesame seeds. There is a whole Calcium-rich world out there without all the stomachs and bloating!
The Biotic Preference — Seeds:
Beyond the original Calcium sources list above, one of my favorite Calcium-rich additions is adding seeds to my diet. I often snack on Calcium-packed sunflower seeds or sprinkle sesame seeds on my vegetables. One of my favorite macrobiotic condiments, Gomashio (see recipe below), is made from sesame seeds and gets sprinkled on everything from my brown rice and beans to my stir-fry and sushi. Both are super easy to add into my diet, and I rarely leave home without a bag of sunflower seeds. And for anyone who has a nut allergy out there, Trader Joe’s has a great Sunflower Seed Butter that my kids live on.
Gomashio is one of the most popular macrobiotic condiments and is very easy to make. Gomashio has a very short shelf life (approximately two weeks) so it must be made regularly. Do not refrigerate Gomashio as the moisture will cause it to clump; and it should have a flakey consistency and be kept in an airtight container for storage. It has an amazing smell and an even better taste … a little nutty and salty. This condiment can actually replace your table salt and can be sprinkled on everything from all kinds of vegetables to rice or even salads. Once you use it, you will find many applications, but use it sparingly — only a teaspoon a day.
1-teaspoon good quality Sea Salt
(Si Salt is my recommendation and is available at Erehwon or on-line at Goldmine Natural Food Company (goldminenaturalfood.com) or The Eden Food Company (edenfoods.com or 1-888-441-EDEN).
18 teaspoons* of fresh tan Sesame Seeds (can substitute black sesame seeds)
*Typically the ratio of sesame seed to sea salt is 18:1. For children, the ratio of sesame seed to sea salt should be higher between 20:1 to 24:1.
1. Hand shift through dry Sesame Seeds and pick out any debris or small stones. Using a fine-mesh metal strainer, wash seeds under cold running water, using your fingers to clean any dust or dirt off the seeds. Place the wet seeds on a towel and pat dry.
2. Using a stainless steel or cast-iron frying pan, roast the teaspoon of Sea Salt over a medium flame, constantly moving the Salt around the pan for between 2 to 4 minutes. Look for both the Salt to slightly change color to a light gray; and for the salt to release a slight ammonia-like smell. Be careful not to burn the salt. Remove from the heat and place in a Suribachi (see below).
3. Using the same skillet, roast the Sesame Seeds over a medium flame, moving them around the frying pan constantly. As the seeds roast, they will start to pop up from the skillet and release a nutty scent. This process takes between 7 to 10 minutes depending on various roasting conditions and skillets. You need to keep a close eye on the seeds while stirring so as not to burn the seeds, or else your Gomashio will be bitter.
4. Place the roasted seed into the suribachi* with the roasted salt and use the surikogi (the wooden pestle that comes with the suribachi) to grind coarsely, not fully blended. This process should take no longer than ten minutes (Look forward to a nice little arm workout while you grind!) and do not expect the seeds to be fully incorporated.
*A Suribachi is a serrated earthenware bowl that comes with a wooden pestle called a Surikogi. They can be found at most health-food stores or ordered from Macrobiotic supply companies, like Goldmine or the Kushi Institute. I found one at Cost Plus as well.
Gomashio’s Heath Benefits:
- Neutralize acidity in the blood
- Strengthen the blood
- Relieve tiredness
- Strengthen the nervous system
- Neutralizing infection
- Restoring digestive ability
- Lowers cholesterol
- Prevents high blood pressure
- Packed with essential nutrients from vitamins A to E,
- Magnesium, calcium, dietary fiber, zinc and many more.
Ready-made Gomashio is available in most natural food stores around the country or on-line at Macrobiotic food sources. However, the sesame seed to sea salt ratio is much lower, as low as 10:1; and is usually too salty and becomes stale quickly after opening. Always best to go with homemade!
Kathryn Cavanaugh lives with her husband and two children in Los Angeles.