Tag Archives: calcium

Q&A: Leg Cramps

Q: I’m pregnant and have been waking up every night with horrible leg cramps. My researching online says I maybe need more magnesium. Do you have any suggestions how to work this into my diet?

A: Ouch! That is no fun. I had leg cramps with my second pregnancy, and I can remember how much those hurt.

The hard fact is that no one 100% knows why leg cramps happen, because there are lots of things that can lead up to them. Here are four common nutrients that are suggested or that I have seen be helpful. The good news is that many of these are found in the same foods (another reason it can be hard to identify exactly the cause/solution). Also good news, the same answers apply to pregnancy leg cramps or non-pregnancy related leg cramps.

1) Magnesium. As your researching suggests, magnesium is commonly recommended for leg cramps. In general, good sources are nuts, dark leafy greens (like spinach), and whole grains.

2) Potassium. Potassium rich foods are bananas, citrus fruits/juices, potatoes, tomatoes, yogurt, and dark leafy greens.

3) Calcium. Calcium rich foods are dairy products, dark leafy greens, and broccoli.

All three of these nutrients are part of normal muscle function. If one is depleted, it can cause cramps. Since all three work together, it can be hard to know exactly which one is missing, unless you are on a specific medication that we know depletes that nutrient.

4) Water. Water requirements in pregnancy can be hard to determine. You need a lot. Most say at least 8-10 cups a day, others will say up to 16 cups. I personally found that if I was better hydrated, my leg cramps went away. It’s hard, because we tend to not drink water late in the day so we aren’t up in the night using the bathroom. But I’d rather have to go to the bathroom than be up in pain.

Good luck! Hope this helps!

Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!

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Q&A: Electrolytes

Q: What can I eat to keep my electrolytes balanced properly on a normal diet?

A: Electrolytes are essential for our body to function–they maintain a water balance and allow our muscles to contract, our nerves to send signals to the brain, and our body to convert the calories we eat into energy.

It’s important to maintain the right levels of electrolytes through healthy eating, but our bodies generally do a good job regulating them. It’s pretty unusual for dangerous fluctuations to occur in healthy individuals. People with chronic disease or severe illnesses may need to be more careful.

Here are some of the main electrolytes in our body, and some of the best good food sources for them:

  • Sodium – We all consume most of our sodium from salt. Salt is added to almost all of the foods we eat, including bread, cereals, and canned goods. Most people need to limit their sodium intake, rather than focus on getting enough.
  • Potassium – Fruits and vegetables are good sources of potassium. Oranges, potatoes, sweet potatoes, broccoli, spinach, bananas, kiwis, and apricots are all examples. Milk, yogurt, and meat also provide potassium.
  • Chloride – Combined with sodium to make salt, chloride is abundant in our diets. It is also naturally found in many vegetables, such as seaweed, tomatoes, and lettuce.
  • Magnesium – Foods rich in fiber often are good sources of magnesium. Whole grains, beans, spinach, and nuts are examples.
  • Phosphorus – Meat and milk are the main sources of phosphorus. There is some phosphorus in whole grains as well, although this is not absorbed when we eat it.
  • Calcium – Dairy is the best source of dietary calcium. As I mentioned here, green leafy vegetables besides spinach, calcium-fortified beverages, and some bread products also provide calcium.

Thanks for the question!

Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!

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Q&A: Calcium minus the milk

Q:  Hey Kim! Can you give your advice on good sources of calcium? I can’t eat any dairy due to breastfeeding a baby with milk protein allergy. Would love advice on what foods to eat (that taste normal, like NO KALE!!!) that will help the two of us get our calcium.

A:  Thanks for the question!  I had to decrease my dairy intake during breastfeeding, so I understand a little of what this reader is going through.

First off, we all know calcium is important for building and maintaining our bones and teeth.  However, calcium is also necessary for muscles to contract, including our heart.  Calcium also helps nerves to signal and blood to clot.

Here is a table showing how much we need each day:

Age Amount
0–6 months 200 mg
7–12 months 260 mg
1–3 years 700 mg
4–8 years 1,000 mg
9–13 years 1,300 mg
14–18 years 1,300 mg
19–50 years 1,000 mg
51–70 years 1,000 mg  males/
1,200 mg females
71+ years 1,200 mg

Source: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/#en2

Here are some foods and the amount of calcium they provide.  I’m including milk as a reference.

Food      Milligrams (mg) per serving
Nonfat Milk, 1 cup 299
Calcium-fortified soy milk, 1 cup 299
Calcium-fortified orange juice, 3/4 cup 261
Firm tofu, made with calcium sulfate, ½ cup 253
Soft tofu, made with calcium sulfate, ½ cup 138
Cereal, calcium-fortified, 1 cup 100-1,000
Kale, fresh, 1 cup 100
Turnip greens, boiled, ½ cup 99
Bok choi, raw, 1 cup 74
White bread, 1 slice 73
Flour tortilla, 6″ diameter 32
Whole wheat bread, 1 slice 30

Edited from: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/#en2

As you can see, fortified beverages like juice or soy milk are the highest.  Almond and rice milk aren’t on this list but are generally fortified as well.   I don’t know if tofu fits in the “taste normal” category, but it can often add a creamy or “cheesy” texture to casseroles, soups, or smoothies without you tasting it.  The range for cereal listed above is wide; it just depends on the individual cereal.  All leafy greens have a fair amount of calcium, although the calcium in spinach is not absorbed well.  If you don’t like kale, try a different leafy green.  My favorite is mustard greens.

If you are having a hard time eating enough, you can add a supplement.  The two kinds generally available are calcium carbonate and calcium citrate.  Calcium carbonate is generally cheaper, but you should take it with a meal.  It requires stomach acid to be absorbed, so more will be absorbed if taken with food.  Calcium citrate is a bit more expensive, but can be taken any time.

General tips for calcium supplements: don’t take a calcium supplement at the same time as an iron supplement, as they will block each other from being absorbed.  No matter the kind, calcium is best absorbed in amounts of 500 mg or less.  Also, make sure you are getting enough vitamin D to help with the absorption.  And don’t take too much — the most you should get in a day from food AND supplements is 2500 mg.

Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!


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