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How to get enough calcium in your diet

May 16, 2000

Almost every segment of the U.S. population gets too little calcium from natural sources. In fact, fewer than half of all Americans get enough calcium from food alone. Those with the worst diets are often those with the greatest need: teens, women in their childbearing years and older men and women.

cont. from lifestyle

These days, you can find calcium in many foods not normally known for it. You see it in orange juice, cranberry juice, breakfast cereals, snack bars and even frozen waffles. Without too much effort, you can get extra calcium from almost anything on your breakfast menu.

Are these products good for you? Yes.

Most doctors and nutritionists recommend that people increase their intake of natural food sources of calcium. They also encourage supplements and calcium-fortified foods for many of their clients. The advantage of natural sources is that these foods also supply other nutrients, such as phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin D and lactose that help the body absorb and use calcium. Supplements and calcium-fortified foods generally don't contain these other nutrients. They are best used to help boost calcium intake, not as the primary source of it.

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Dairy products - milk, cheese, yogurt, etc. - are our most concentrated food sources of calcium. One cup of milk contains approximately 300 milligrams of calcium; 1 cup of plain yogurt around 400 milligrams. Even people who are mildly lactose intolerant often can enjoy small amounts of dairy products such as yogurt, cheese and lactase-treated milk. People who must avoid dairy products due to allergies or severe lactose intolerance can get a significant amount of calcium from dry beans; fish with edible bones; tofu (if processed with calcium sulfate); dark green vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, collards and turnip greens; and, of course, calcium-fortified foods.

 

How much is too much?

However, you can get too much calcium. The most recent guidelines set 2,500 milligrams a day as the Upper Tolerable Intake Level. Above this level, you run the risk of adversely affecting kidney function and of developing kidney stones. While this sounds like a lot of calcium, a teenage boy downing a half-gallon of milk or calcium-fortified orange juice a day could easily reach it.

Nutrition experts recommend that consumers protect themselves by doing a little self-analysis. Use the Information on Nutrition Facts labels to add up the calcium you're getting from food each day. If you're not getting enough, consider taking a supplement or increasing your intake of calcium-fortified foods. Up to 1,500 milligrams daily from foods and supplements combined should cover anyone's needs.

Another important point to remember is that calcium is only part of the answer to strong bones. Weight-bearing exercise is important, as is a diet that doesn't work against calcium. High levels of protein, caffeine, alcohol and salt all interfere with calcium absorption.

Consider these points when evaluating your diet and lifestyle for optimal bone health.




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.

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