Make No Bones About It

Are you getting enough calcium in your diet? Make no bones about it. Calcium is all about bones, your bones. Paying attention to bone health should be a lifelong effort. So why is it lifelong?

First, 99% of the body’s calcium is stored in the bones and teeth where it supports structure and function. The other 1% supports critical metabolic functions such as blood vessel dilation and contraction and nerve transmission. Circulating calcium is tightly regulated and does not fluctuate with diet. Rather bone tissue serves as a calcium bank to support these critical functions. Bone is active tissue, continuously restoring itself with the calcium and vitamin D in our diet supported with other nutrients including protein, vitamin A and phosphorus. Some calcium is always excreted so daily intake is necessary. Along with diet, don’t forget physical activity. The pressure of exercise against the muscles and bones supports bone strength and bone mass.

Lack of sufficient calcium early in life plays out as osteoporosis later in life. Active bone formation and calcium deposit is greatest between the ages of four and 18 years. The Recommended Dietary Allowances suggest children four to eight years need 1,000 mg of calcium daily and adolescents nine to 18 years need 1,300mg. After that and until the age of 50 years, bone mass remains relatively constant. Calcium requirements are 1,000 mg. Once women reach menopause, bone loss begins with the decrease in estrogen. Calcium needs then increase to 1,200 mg. Around the age of 70 years, men also begin to lose bone and need 1,200 mg.

The best sources of calcium and vitamin D are dairy products: milk, cheese and yogurt. Three eight-ounce glasses of milk provide about 1,000 mg of calcium. Kale, turnip greens and canned salmon and sardines with bones also are reasonable sources of calcium. Some foods are now fortified with calcium and vitamin D including orange juice, some cereals and calcium-fortified soy milk. Check food labels as you may find other sources of calcium.

Are you getting enough calcium? Lately milk is being replaced by new beverage choices without calcium. Young women, who are dieting, may choose to stop eating dairy products to cut calories. Vegetarians risk not getting enough calcium because some plant foods have compounds that bind calcium and prevent it from being absorbed. Review your diet to make sure you are getting calcium.

If dairy products are avoided or not preferred, supplements are an option. The two main forms of calcium supplements are carbonate and citrate. Calcium carbonate is absorbed most efficiently when taken with food. Calcium citrate is absorbed equally as well with or without food. Read the label to determine how much you need.

Snack Tip

Yogurt “Sundae” This calcium-rich snack is fun and great for kids and can be made ahead. Use an 8-ounce or larger canning jar with lid or a non-breakable jar. Choose a favorite yogurt. Gather sundae toppings such as fresh or dried fruit pieces, berries (fresh or frozen), nuts, granola, cereal, and yes, chocolate chips. Spoon half of the yogurt into the jar, sprinkle with toppings, add more yogurt and toppings, leaving enough room for the jar lid.

Written by: Mimi Cunningham, Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist, Diabetes Educator

Mimi Cunningham is a dietitian-nutritionist living in Eagle, Idaho. Her nutrition specialty is diabetes education and management. She loves writing about embracing healthy eating as fun plus a route to good health. She serves as a member of the Idaho Foodbank board of directors addressing food insecurity as a challenge to good health for Idaho children and adults.

On behalf of Smart Strategies for Successful Living, our sincerest appreciation goes to Mimi Cunningham for her contribution to our community website and commitment to healthy living and aging.