Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Writing on this topic has been a goal of mine for a few weeks. Over the years, both the US and the Canadian government did an outstanding job penetrating the public perception of meat and dairy as the preferred sources of protein and calcium, respectively. Many health organizations continue to list milk, cheese and yogurt as the primary sources of calcium, even though there is enough controversy about the real effects of animal-based foods on human health. 

In my endless pursuit of knowledge on nutrition, I researched plant-based alternatives to calcium sources and classified them into three groups: vegetables, fruit and seeds/nuts/grains- items that are few and far in between on the International Osteoporosis Foundation's list of calcium-rich foods. In fact, the suggestion appears to be that fruit cheesecake, vanilla ice-cream and pizza are ideal for consumption by women over fifty. Certainly, the institution did not word it in that precise manner, but listing the above processed foods at all says enough about its lack of credibility in advising on women's health, bone health or otherwise.
To begin, it is important to establish that the recommended dietary allowance for calcium for an adult aged 19-50 is set at 1000 mg, both in Canada and the US. In determining calcium content, I utilized one of my favourite sources: the USDA's National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. For ease of reference, I rated all foods from the richest to the poorest in the calcium-rich category.

Interestingly enough, soybeans proved to be a winner in the vegetable category, followed by garlic, kelp and a few representatives of the cruciferous family of vegetables. Kelp, okra and bok choy, especially, are intriguing, since I do not recall ever cooking with them, although I do recall consuming a fair bit of canned seaweed back in the far East of Russia, on Sakhalin island, where my sister and I were born and raised until just before my ninth birthday when we moved to the main land. 


1. Soybeans, mature
277 mg/100 g
2. Garlic
181 mg/100 g
3. Seaweed, kelp
168 mg/100 g
4. Kale
150 mg/100 g
5. Bok choy (Chinese cabbage)
105 mg/100 g
6. Spinach
99 mg/100 g
7. Chives
92 mg/100 g
8. Okra
82 mg/100 g
9. Rutabaga
60 mg/100 g
10. Broccoli
47 mg/100 g
Perhaps, we had access to edible seaweed because of our close proximity to Japan, where kelp and other kinds of under-water plant species are consumed in great quantities. Whatever the reason, we probably consumed enough iodine- a crucial nutrient for thyroid, found in abundance in kelp. 

Okra, on the other hand, is something I am certain I never had experience cooking or consuming. According to Chatelaine's October 2012 issue, it has numerous benefits, including aiding in digestion and blood sugar control, preventing stomach ulcers and reducing the chances of birth defects by virtue of folic acid.

Boy choy or pak-choi, as spelled by the USDA, is another mystery to be uncovered. Walking through the produce section at Superstore, I often noted this vegetable, but it never made it to my shopping basket due to my lack of familiarity with it. Lately, however, I found myself curious about all those bizarre- or should I rather say, unaccustomed to- fruits and vegetables. Handling the same old ingredients in the kitchen can become somewhat boring and a newly found food might exactly what is needed to reignite the passion for all things culinary.   

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