Calcium is an essential nutrient that should be consumed daily. It works with phosphorus to keep your bones and teeth strong. It also supports muscle contraction and helps prevent spasms and cramps. It is essential for blood clotting and nerve transmission and also helps regulate your blood pressure. Calcium plays a role in osteoporosis and colon cancer prevention, it also aids in weight loss.
However, the health problem most commonly associated with calcium is osteoporosis. Ninety nine percent of calcium is in your bones and teeth, and if you don’t consume enough your body borrows from these reserves. If you continue to borrow from the calcium stores in your bones, you may develop osteoporosis. This debilitating disease is due to a loss of bone density.
Recent research shows that consuming three to four servings of calcium-rich dairy foods in combination with a reduced calorie diet can help with weight loss. While calcium from all food sources has been shown to aid in weight loss, dairy products have been shown to have the best results.
Adults should consume at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium each day. These recommendations differ for other populations; they are summarized below.
Population Calcium Requirements
Children 1 to 3 years 500
Children 4 to 8 years 800
Youth 9 to 18 years 1,300
Adults 19 to 50 years 1,000
Pregnant and Breast-feeding women 1,300
Adults 50+ years 1,300
Women who are pregnant must consume higher amounts of calcium in order to meet their baby’s needs in addition to their own. Changes in the absorption and metabolism of calcium during pregnancy also increase requirements. Women who are breastfeeding must consume enough calcium to meet their own needs as well as those for milk production.
During menopause and after menopause a women’s body produces less estrogen, which increases the risk for osteoporosis. Due to this increased risk, women who are going through or have gone through menopause must consume more calcium.
Sources of Calcium
Dairy foods and those made with dairy are the best sources of calcium. One eight ounce serving of milk provides 300 milligrams of calcium, nearly one-third the daily requirements. People often assume that if they don’t eat dairy it is impossible to meet their calcium needs. However there are many non-dairy sources of calcium, including:
- Vegetables like broccoli, collard greens and kale
- Dried beans and peas
- Canned fish like sardines and salmon when eaten with the bones
- Calcium-fortified orange juice, cereal and snack foods.
By incorporating some of these foods into your diet you can meet calcium needs without eating dairy.
Role of Vitamin D
Vitamin D also plays an important role in maintaining bone density by helping calcium absorption. Without this vitamin our body cannot adequately use the calcium we get from foods. It also works in the kidneys to help us reabsorb calcium that would otherwise be excreted.
It is often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin” because our skin uses ultraviolet rays to make vitamin D. While our body is able to manufacture enough vitamin D to meet our needs if we receive adequate exposure to the sun, there are health risks associated with prolonged sun exposure. In addition, sunscreen inhibits our body’s ability to manufacture this important vitamin.
Sources of Vitamin D
There are many food items that you can consume to meet your vitamin D requirements. Food sources include:
- Fish oil
- Saltwater fish and shellfish like salmon, halibut, herring, tuna, oysters and shrimp
- Vitamin D fortified cereals
Published On: September 22, 2006