Keep Up with Calcium!

One doesn’t need a degree in nutrition to know that calcium is important in our diet. But maybe all the “reasons” have gotten a bit fuzzy in our brains over the years?  Well here is a refresher on why calcium is important for bone health, the various “drains” on calcium in our bodies, and some ideas on getting more calcium into your diet.

Calcium is a key in preventing and treating osteoporosis as well as other health benefits. Other than our bones, calcium is critical to many other functions in the body. It is used by our hearts for healthy blood vessels and regulates blood pressure, proper nerve and muscle function, and for adequate blood clotting.

As we get older, we also lose bone density.  The natural aging process causes our bodies to lose bone density at faster rates. However, even in our aging years, our bodies can and do build new bone. The trick is to adopt strategies to increase bone density faster than it is lost.

Photo source: Wikipedia Commons.

Photo source: Wikipedia Commons.

Getting enough

Individuals who had low calcium intake throughout their lives also have lower bone mass and higher fracture rates as they aged.  The vast majority of people in the US do not consume enough calcium needed for growing and maintaining healthy bones. The recommended calcium intakes in milligrams for various age groups are as follows:

  • 51-70 year old males: 1,000 mg/day
  • 51-70 year old females: 1,200 mg/day

Although many dietary guidelines state 1,200 mg/day as the maximum, rheumatologists recommend that those with a high risk of osteoporosis or over the age of 70 can take up to 1,500 mg/day.  Too much of a good thing can be…too much of a good thing, however. Over 2,500 mg/day can cause kidney stones and other health issues.

Calcium drains: Even for those who take enough daily calcium, there are factors that not only inhibit calcium absorption, but also deplete our bodies of calcium.

  • High levels of protein and sodium in the diet can cause the body to increase secretion of calcium through the kidneys.
  • Women in menopause experiencing hormonal change begin to lose bone density at a faster rate. Bones become more brittle as they naturally lose mass.
  • People with lactose intolerance may not be taking extra steps to insure enough calcium intakes.
  • Neglecting to consume vitamin D along with calcium inhibits absorption of calcium. The recommended daily does for vitamin D is 3,000-5,000 IU. Check this out for an explanation as to why the recommended dosage has increased. Better yet, get out in the sun for 15-20 minutes a day and gain your vitamin D3 directly into your bloodstream. If you will be out longer than 20 minutes, put on your sunscreen after that time.
  • Consuming colas and other carbonated drinks: The Phosphoric acid as well as the high sugar levels in colas dissolve calcium in your system.

Calcium and exercise: We know that resistance training strengthens our bones, right? But resistance training combined with strenuous endurance exercise such cycling or running can leave the blood with depleted calcium levels. To combat this, athletes who take their calcium supplements 30 minutes prior to a workout experience less of a decrease in calcium blood levels. So by no means should you decrease your workouts, just workout smart and take your calcium before hand.

Calcium rich foods:
½ cup firm tofu, calcium enriched with calcium sulfate   860 mg
Oatmeal 350 mg (sweeten your oatmeal with blackstrap molasses for an additional 137 mg)
1.5 oz. shredded cheddar cheese   324mg
1 cup Non-fat milk                     302 mg
1 cup plain low fat yogurt      300 mg
1 cup cooked soybeans           261 mg
½ can of canned salmon (with bones)    232 mg
½ cup firm tofu, calcium enriched with calcium sulfate   860 mg
6 oz. calcium fortified orange juice    200-260 mg
2 cups raw, chopped kale       188 mg
Approx. 1/3 cup almonds    150 mg

So now you have your why’s, why not’s, and how’s on calcium, it is up to you to determine your when’s.  What tricks and tips do you take to sneak more calcium in your diet? Do you have any favorite recipes?

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