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Dairy Fats and Calcium Absorption

Dairy Fats and Calcium Absorption

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Did you know that dairy fats and calcium absorption play a direct role with each other within the body? That said, it may not be the relationship that you expect it to be. With all the trends toward weight loss – particularly as we were all led to believe that a fat-free product as better for our results than full-fat – many of us had lost sight of the importance of nutrition in the foods we choose.

Do Dairy Fats Help Calcium Absorption in the Body?

A common misconception when it comes to eating a proper diet is that fat-free dairy products lack the dairy fats that are necessary for proper calcium absorption. Although it is true that your body does require these types of fats to use calcium, dairy fats are not required for calcium to be fully absorbed.

This means that yes, your body does not need dairy fats for calcium absorption itself. This mineral will enter your body from the digestive system if you’ve had a completely fat-free diet.  However, the difference occurs when it comes to being able to actually use the mineral that has been absorbed by the body. 

Water-Soluble vs Fat Soluble

Calcium, like other minerals, is water-soluble. What this means is that calcium readily dissolves in watery-type liquids, such as milk, without the help of fats. This is not to say that all vitamins and minerals act this way. For example, fat is required for absorption of fat-soluble nutrients like vitamins A and E.

As it turns out, calcium absorption has been measured under all different levels of fat intake. The result was that about the same proportion of calcium is absorbed from dairy products – about 30% – no matter how much fat they have. 

So, think of it this way.  Dairy fats and calcium absorption have the kind of relationship you can compare to a new ingredient (the calcium) and a recipe (the fats).  You may be able to get your hands on the ingredient, but without a recipe to tell you what to do with that ingredient, you won’t be able to use it in a way that it will taste good. You might be able to obtain these substances, but you need more to be able to use them.

Dairy Fats for Calcium Absorption and Utilization

Although dairy fats are not needed for calcium absorption, they do play a critical role in the utilization process of calcium in the body. Vitamin D, which is fat soluble, is required for the utilization of calcium. Therefore, fat is required, albeit indirectly, for calcium to be utilized. 

Natural Sources of Vitamin D

Vitamin D is the "sun" vitamin - it is produced naturally by your body when your skin is exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D is also found naturally in a few foods, including the flesh of fish (such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel) and fish liver oils, which are among the best sources. Small amounts of vitamin D are also found in beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks. 

To ensure that enough vitamin D is consumed in the diet, many foods are now artificially fortified with this nutrient. Foods commonly fortified with vitamin D include milk, breakfast cereals, orange juice, yogurt, and margarine.  In this way, it becomes easier to be able to obtain more of this nutrient than most people would obtain from eating the natural sources.

While supplements for vitamin D are also available, it’s important to know which ones to use in order to best benefit from it.  A growing number of studies are showing that these supplements in tablet form don’t provide much benefit as they are not efficiently digested.  Instead, the gel caps or liquid forms of the supplement are usually recommended for the best results in taking in vitamin D.

Magnesium to Complete the Mix

Magnesium is another mineral that plays a role in calcium absorption so that the dairy fat will help the mineral to be usable.  In fact, many supplements combine calcium and magnesium or even add vitamin D to complete the mix in order to ensure that the body is obtaining the balance it needs to take in and use the nutrients.

Magnesium is naturally found in many foods such as dark green leafy vegetables, dark chocolate, many nuts, whole grains, seeds, tofu, certain types of fatty fish, legumes, avocadoes, bananas, and others.  Magnesium stays in the body for only around 12 hours, so unlike nutrients that are stored within the body over time, such as iron, this one needs to be regularly replenished. As a result, unless we regularly eat those foods every day, supplementation is a primary way to obtain this nutrient.

By combining vitamin D and magnesium for calcium absorption and dairy fats for its use, the body has much more of what it needs to be able to get the most out of this essential mineral.