Article: Which foods are rich in Calcium?

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When most people think of calcium-containing foods, their minds go immediately to dairy products. While lean dairy products do provide calcium, because they also contain animal protein and sodium, our bodies may only absorb as little as one third of that calcium and we can actually lose more calcium in our urine (especially when eating processed cheeses). Since one of the keys to an enjoyable eating experience and healthful diet is variety, being able to find other sources of calcium is very beneficial.

There just happens to be a group of foods which offer calcium that is easier for our bodies to absorb, along with a wealth of other essential nutrients, including vitamin A (healthy immune system, skin, vision and strong bones), vitamin C (healthy skin, bones, connective tissue and immune system), vitamin K (healthy blood and bones), folate (healthy blood, heart, and cells, especially during pregnancy), fiber (healthy gut, weight management, blood cholesterol and blood sugar) and phytochemicals (reduce cholesterol, inflammation, cancer and heart disease risk), all for a lot fewer calories… GREENS!!!

Some of the superstars (when it comes to calcium) include: collard greens, kale, Chinese cabbage, mustard greens, bok choy, and broccoli. (Eat Smart Fact: 1 cup of collard greens provides ~400 mg of calcium, 1 cup of nonfat milk provides ~300 mg!) Each of these greens taste a bit different, so do not be afraid to experiment! If you enjoy a milder flavor, be sure to cook the greens and/or use raw bok choy or Chinese cabbage in a salad. If you like your food a bit “spicy/peppery”, try raw collard greens or mustard greens.

To get you started on a new culinary adventure, I have included two options: a no-cook Collard Slaw which is easy to prepare, incorporates two sources of vitamin C (peppers and orange juice), and makes a delicious filling for a wrap (see note below); and a super Quick-Sauteed Collard Ribbons that might just become one of your favorite side dishes.

After cleaning the greens by swishing them around in a large bowl of cold water and then rinsing them, I remove the large stems, and if I am not using them in the recipe, I will finely dice them and add them to my green salads for the week. Tossing the chopped greens with a squeeze of lemon or orange juice (vitamin C source) and letting them sit for 5-10 minutes before cooking can improve the availability of the cancer-preventing phytochemicals.  Since some greens contain oxalic acid, (reduce calcium absorption), rhubarb, beet greens, spinach and chard are should not be considered good sources of available calcium.

Collard Slaw
While you can enjoy this fresh salad as a spunky side dish, it makes an absolutely wonderful filling for a whole grain wrap! (Simply warm a whole grain tortilla, spread with a thin layer of hummus or black bean dip, then top with the slaw and several slices of fresh cucumber and diced sweet red, yellow or orange bell pepper. You will be pleasantly surprised!).  I adapted is recipe from: www.kosher.camembert.wordpress.com

Collards don't even need to be cooked to be fantastic!

Collards don’t even need to be cooked to be fantastic!

1 bunch collard greens (washed, stem removed, rolled and cut into thin ribbons- also called “chiffonade”)
1/3 cup yellow bell pepper (diced small)
2 carrots, grated
1 1/2 T rice vinegar
1 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp toasted sesame seeds (or tahini)
1 tsp of orange zest
1-2 Tbsp orange juice (squeeze 1-2 orange wedges over slaw)
1/4 tsp sriracha (or your favorite hot sauce/chili garlic sauce) – optional
1/4 to 3/4 tsp sugar (start with 1/4 tsp, taste, and add up to 3/4 tsp tasting along the way)
1/4 cup chopped peanuts (garnish each salad with ~1 Tbsp)

Mix all ingredients, except sugar and peanuts in a large bowl. Add 1/4 tsp of sugar, mix well and taste. Add more sugar if needed, 1/4 tsp at a time, tasting along the way. Let salad marinate for at least 30 minutes, for the flavors to marry. Garnish each salad with chopped peanuts and be sure to use it in a yummy wrap (see note above).

(Really) Quick-Sauteed Collard Ribbons
If you would rather start your collard adventure with a very mellow flavored, REALLY quick cooking recipe (cooking time: 1 minute) – try this! I made a few adjustments to a recipe that was originally published by Fine Cooking (June/July 2010), but I found on a GREAT website: www.thebittenword.com. The combination of malt vinegar and maple syrup might sound a bit odd, but it tastes wonderful!!!

Sauteed greens in one minute?! You'll have to taste it to believe it!

Sauteed greens in one minute?! You’ll have to taste it to believe it!

1/4 orange or lemon (fresh)
1/2 Tbs. malt vinegar
1 tsp. maple syrup
1 bunch collard greens (washed, stem removed, rolled and cut into thin ribbons- also called “chiffonade”)
1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil (or a few Tablespoons of broth can be used in place of oil)
1-2 small cloves garlic, lightly smashed and peeled (you can use a lot more garlic if you are a fan!)
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt

Toss the collard ribbons with a generous squeeze of fresh lemon or orange juice and set aside. In a small bowl, whisk the malt vinegar and maple syrup. Heat the olive oil (or broth) in a skillet over medium-high heat, add the garlic and cook until just lightly browned. Remove the garlic with a slotted spoon/fork and set aside. Add the pepper flakes to the hot oil, and immediately add the collards and 1/2 tsp salt. Stir/toss the collards to coat with the broth or oil (tongs work well), and continue tossing for about 1 minute (greens will be bright to dark green and slightly wilted). Do not overcook, as they can toughen. Add the garlic back into the pan with the greens, drizzle on the maple-vinegar mixture, stir well, and enjoy right away!

Timaree Hagenburger, is a registered dietitian and certified health fitness specialist with a master’s degree in public health. She is a nutrition professor at Cosumnes River College, does corporate wellness work, as well as professional speaking engagements and teaches hands-on cooking/nutrition classes.

My article was published in the Lodi News Sentinel on April 13, 2011.

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