Beans, Cilantro and Parsley; 3 Unadvertised Though Relevant Calcium Food Sources
Osteoporosis is a disease associated with an increased risk of fractures.1 Apart from the pharmacological approach to manage this disease, a recommended mean daily calcium intake of 1200 mg in adults is recommended.2 Dairy products are the best available food calcium sources worldwide.3 Broccoli and soy beans are claimed to be rich in calcium, but their bioavailability is limited because of the presence of fibers, oxalate, and phytate.4,5 Brazilians living in 2 very different latitudes, namely, in the city of Marília, São Paulo (22°12′50″ S), and in Fortaleza, Ceará (03°43′02″ S), have a very low prevalence of osteoporosis-related fractures, as compared with whites living in the northern hemisphere.6,7 The low latitude of Fortaleza probably accounts for this low prevalence, but other factors, including diet habits, may contribute.6
We performed a survey of calcium-rich food sources commonly consumed in Brazil. Data from the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE) obtained in 2008–2009 regarding food habits were extracted, discriminating the amount consumed per person and region of the country.8 Data from the US Department of Agriculture were then extracted in order to estimate the composition of common Brazilian food sources with emphasis on calcium content.9 Dairy products were not evaluated, given their known high calcium content. Potential sources among food from animal protein, for the purpose of this article, given their relatively low amounts of calcium, were considered negligible for calcium supply. Table 1 displays the calcium content of commonly consumed vegetable sources in Brazil that have more than 100 mg calcium/100 g, except broccoli. It can be seen that beans are a rich source of calcium, whereas cilantro and parsley have “incredibly” high amounts. The average per edible portion consumption of beans, cilantro, and parsley in Brazil, using a rough estimation of the quantity added in each preparation is also shown. Other commonly advised vegetable options for calcium supply such as cabbage and spinach were not included in this table because they have less than 60 mg/100 g. Also, their daily consumption, at least in Brazil, is very low, as compared with beans.8
Surprisingly as it may seem, beans are a rich source of calcium. The most consumed bean varieties in Brazil have at least 110 mg calcium/100 g. The International Osteoporosis Foundation Web site lists beans as a rich source of calcium.4 However, for some reason, this is not commonly advertised. On the other hand, soy beans are claimed to be rich in calcium, and its liquid formulation, advertised as “soy milk,” can be mistakenly thought to be the best substitute for milk as a calcium supply. Considering that the amount of soy beans consumed daily is negligible, we may finish by concluding that beans are the most relevant vegetable source of calcium in our country. This has to do with its great consumption in Brazil, regardless of the region analyzed. Furthermore, the black variety, which is becoming increasingly popular, has even more calcium, with 160 mg/100 g.8 Any foreigner traveling to Brazil can appreciate the famous “rice and beans,” which is heavily and daily consumed in lunch. Splitting families by monthly income of less than or more than US $486.48, the mean daily bean consumption in the former is 190.3 g, as compared with 127.5 g in the later group. It merits mentioning also that men’s consumption is higher (mean daily 223.1 g) as compared with women’s mean of 145.4 g. Thus, low income populations consume approximately 33% more beans as compared with higher-income people in Brazil.8
We would like to point to an as yet unrecognized, potential major calcium source used in Brazilian cuisine.