Bones are like a bank for calcium

June 08, 1999

Calcium plays a vital role in the body at every age, especially in the development of strong bones and teeth.

Our bones are like a bank for calcium. Deposits or withdrawals are made based on how much calcium is in the diet. The more calcium in the diet, the more deposits made, the stronger the bones. (continued) Typically, people build up calcium in their bones through their late 20s and early 30s. After age 50, calcium loss from bones becomes more prevalent. It is important to get enough calcium in your early years so you can have a good reservoir to draw from, and it's important to get enough in later years to keep blood levels high enough that calcium in bones stays put.

The daily calcium intake recommendations by National Institutes of Health are:

* Children, from ages 1 to 10 - 800 milligrams

* Adolescents and young adults, ages 11 to 24 - 1,200 to 1,500 milligrams


* Men and women, ages 25 and older - 1,000 milligrams

To boost your daily intake, keep in mind that dairy products are the most concentrated source of calcium.

Milk contains 300 milligrams per cup; yogurt has 345 to 425 milligrams per cup; ricotta cheese has 340 milligrams per half cup; mozzarella cheese has 200 milligrams in one ounce.

Drink low-fat milk with meals or as a snack and milk-based cocoa or other flavored milk instead of soft drinks. Snack on nonfat frozen yogurt, ice milk or ice cream, sticks or slices of cheese, custard or pudding prepared with milk and low-fat cottage cheese mixed with chopped fruit or vegetables.

When cooking, add cheese to sandwiches and salads, nonfat dry milk to casserole dishes and sauces, milk to hot cereal and cream soups instead of water.

Good vegetarian sources of calcium include tofu made with calcium sulfate (130 milligrams per half cup) and broccoli (80 milligrams per half cup). Green leafy vegetables and calcium-fortified cereals also help give your body some of the calcium it needs.

Canned fish is a good source of calcium, if you can stomach the bones. A three-ounce serving of salmon serves up 170 milligrams; sardines come in at 370 milligrams per three ounces.

To optimize bone retention of calcium, get moving. Activity that demands the skeleton to resist gravity and bear weight (walking, running, weight lifting) encourages calcium to stay in the bones.

While you work on boosting your calcium intake, another concern is to minimize its loss. Protein, caffeine and alcohol are all emerging as culprits in increasing calcium loss in urine.

In one recent study, it was found that the more protein the subjects ate, the more calcium they lost. So, for optimal bone health, watch your intake of protein, caffeine and alcohol. Keep portion sizes of meat, poultry or fish to approximately five to six ounces daily.

Maryland Cooperative Extension programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences extension educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County - University of Maryland.

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