Are you eating (and absorbing) enough calcium?
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What's the big deal about calcium?
Without it, you and I would be shapeless blobs!
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body with 99% of our supply being stored in our bones and teeth to support their structure and function. (Another 1% of body calcium is needed for blood vessels, muscles and nerves, and to help cells release hormones.)
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Unfortunately, many of us are not getting enough calcium from our diet. Groups most at risk of calcium deficiency are:
• Girls, aged 9-18 • Women over the age of 50 • Men over age 70
The bottom line: Over periods of years, if we don't take in enough calcium we're a sitting duck for osteopenia (the pre-osteoporosis condition that means your bones are weakening and becoming brittle). Osteopenia, if untreated, leads to osteoporosis
Are YOU getting enough calcium?
The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Calcium are:
|0-6 months*||200 mg||200 mg|
|7-12 months*||260 mg||260 mg|
|1-3 years||700 mg||700 mg|
|4-8 years||1,000 mg||1,000 mg|
|9-13 years||1,300 mg||1,300 mg|
|14-18 years||1,300 mg||1,300 mg||1,300 mg||1,300 mg|
|19-50 years||1,000 mg||1,000 mg||1,000 mg||1,000 mg|
|51-70 years||1,000 mg||1,200 mg|
|71+ years||1,200 mg||1,200 mg|
|* Adequate Intake|
How do we make certain that we're getting enough calcium daily? Eat up!
The easiest way to get calcium is by eating dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese.
But what if you are lactose intolerant or don't like dairy? Other suitable sources of calcium include:
- Certain veggies including broccoli, kale and Chinese cabbage are good vegetarian sources.
- Lactose intolerant individuals may also want to consider lactose-reduced fortified milk or more easily digested forms of milk such as yogurt and some goat milk and cheeses. If you like to eat some dairy but still experience symptoms, you can try an over-the counter lactose enzyme to take with dairy. This will give you the enzyme to break down the lactose. But dairy is hardly the only powerhouse source of calcium.
- Pass the calcium supplement: If you don't take in enough calcium, no worries: your body will just get what it needs by taking it from your bones. Oh, were you using those?
Best food sources for calcium
|Milk and Milk Products||Calcium Content|
|Yogurt, with active and live cultures, plain, low-fat, vitamin D-fortified, 1 cup||415 mg|
|Milk, reduced fat, vitamin D-fortified, 1 cup||285 mg|
|Swiss cheese, 1 oz.||224 mg|
|Cottage cheese, 1/2 cup||87 mg|
|Ice cream, 1/2 cup||84 mg|
|Rhubarb, frozen, cooked, 1 cup||348 mg|
|Sardines, with bone, 3 oz.||325 mg|
|Spinach, frozen, cooked, 1 cup||291 mg|
|Salmon, canned, with bone, 3 oz.||181 mg|
|Soy milk, unfortified, 1 cup||61 mg|
|Orange, 1 medium||52 mg|
|Broccoli, raw, 1 cup||41 mg|
|Pinto beans, cooked, 1/2 cup||40 mg|
|Lettuce greens, 1 cup||20 mg|
|Tuna, white, canned, 3 oz.||12 mg|
Drinking lots of coffee and colas may lead to soft bones. Research suggests that it may be the caffeine rather than the carbonation in sodas that's the problem. In fact, certain carbonated mineral waters appear to support bone health.
Your body can't absorb a full day's worth of calcium in just one meal. In order to get the Recommended Daily Allowance, you must eat food-based sources of calcium several times a day -- ideally 6 to 8 hours apart.
A word about calcium supplements: If you opt to take a calcium supplement, calcium carbonate must be taken with meals for optimal absorption. Calcium citrate can be taken with or without food.
Even if you're consuming enough calcium, you may not be absorbing it. Vitamin D makes all the difference
Only when enough vitamin D is present, will the calcium you eat be thoroughly metabolized. Most people with calcium deficiency do not get enough vitamin D. Besides the obvious combination calcium-vitamin D supplement, there are many other sources of vitamin D. Sources besides sunlight include fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, egg yolks, liver, and vitamin D fortified milk products.
Note: even if you need to use a calcium and vitamin D supplement, you must still strive to eat a vitamin and mineral rich diet. The foods high in calcium and vitamin D are also packed with other important nutrients so it makes sense to eat as much as you can of them!
Once you're eating and absorbing adequate calcium, take an extra measure to build and preserve strong bones by working your bones daily. Participate in exercises that put force (a slight amount of pounding) on the bones such as walking, jogging, jumping rope, bouncing on a trampoline, dancing or playing tennis. Exercises that are less helpful for building bone strength, but still wonderful for overall health and fitness, would be bicycling or swimming -- since they cushion the force put on bones.
Sources (Accessed May 17, 2012):
Prevention magazine, June 2012. Stay stronger longer.