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Calcium Rich Foods- Make No Bones Without It!

--by Donna M. De Cunzo, R.D., L.D.

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Since June is National Dairy Month, we decided to tie this theme in with calcium intake and Osteoporosis Prevention.

Dairy products supply most of the calcium - the mineral which builds strong teeth and bones - in the average American diet. Dairy products also supply vitamin A and protein and most milk has vitamin D added to it to help your body absorb the calcium you need. Low fat or skim milk products are better choices than whole milk products. With vitamins A and D added they have the same nutrients as whole milk products, but fewer calories and less fat.

You can buy calcium rich dairy products in many forms: whole, skim, low-fat, evaporated, buttermilk, and nonfat dry milk, yogurt, ice cream, ice milk, and cheeses, including cottage cheese. If you or members of your family prefer the taste of whole milk but not the calories it gives, try mixing it with skim milk or nonfat dry milk and water, made according to the package directions.

Easy Ways to Keep Dairy Foods in Your Diet

High calcium sources include:

  • 1 cup of low fat or skim milk or chocolate milk
  • 1 1/2 oz. of low fat or fat free cheese
  • 1 cup of low fat or fat free yogurt.
  • 6 sardines with bones
  • 1 cup of low fat or fat free pudding or custard
Medium calcium souces include:
  • 1 cup of nonfat or low fat cottage cheese
  • 1 cup of dried beans or peas
  • 1/2 cup of bok choy
  • 5 figs
  • 2 corn tortillas
  • 1 T black strap molasses
  • 1 cup broccoli
  • 2 oz. canned fish, with bones (salmon, mackerel)
  • 1 cup of kale
  • 1/2 cup tofu processed with calcium
  • 1 cup mustard greens
  • 1/4 cup almonds
  • 1 cup of turnip greens

How Much Calcium Does a Person Need?

Preteens to Early 20's: You should be getting 3-4 servings from high calcium sources or 9-12 servings medium calcium sources (1200-1500 mg*).

Mid-20's to 40's: You need 2-3 servings from high calcium sources or 6-9 servings from medium calcium sources (1000 mg*).

Pregnant or Breast Feeding: During this time, it is recommended you get 3 servings from high calcium sources or 9 servings from medium calcium sources (1200 mg*).

From Menopause On: If you are taking estrogen, get 2-3 servings from high calcium sources or 6-9 servings medium calcium sources (1000 mg*). If you are not taking estrogen, consume 4 servings from high calcium sources or 12 servings from medium calcium sources (1500 mg*).

* Daily calcium recommendations in milligrams (mg). Recommendations from the National Institutes of Health Consensus Development Conference on Optimal Calcium Intake, 1994 and the Recommended Dietary Allowances, tenth edition, 1989.

If you are taking calcium supplements, the calcium needs to be easily absorbed by the body. The tablet should dissolve almost entirely in a small glass of warm water or vinegar within 30 minutes. If you're ill or if you've had kidney stones, talk to your doctor before taking any supplements.

Preventing Osteoporosis

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, there are several steps you can take to prevent osteoporosis:

  • The National Osteoporosis Foundation and the National Institutes of Health experts recommend estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) for women at high risk for osteoporosis (experiencing early menopause, a blood relative with osteoporosis, or below normal bone mass for her age).
  • Getting an adequate amount of calcium may help protect you against osteoporosis. National surveys have shown, however, that many Americans are not consuming enough calcium. You need normal levels of vitamin D to absorb calcium. Your body manufactures this vitamin as a result of exposure to sunlight, and it is also available in vitamin-enriched milk products. Too much vitamin D is harmful -- you can safely take 400 units (the recommended daily allowance) in a multivitamin, but don't take additional supplements without first consulting your doctor.
  • Exercise can also be helpful in building and maintaining strong bones. Walking or jogging, racquet sports, hiking, aerobic dance, stair climbing, and almost any other exercises are all beneficial. Note that the benefits of exercise last only as long as you maintain the program!
What about kidney stones? Growing evidence suggests that a high-calcium diet does not increase the risk of kidney stones, as previously believed. A 12-year study of more than 91,000 women found that those who ate diets rich in calcium were 35 percent less likely to develop kidney stones than women who ate little calcium. An earlier study showed similar results in men. Calcium supplements however, don't seem to provide the same protection. Women who got their calcium from pills had a 20 percent higher risk of kidney stones than those who did not use pills, researchers found.

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