What Is The Best Source Of Absorbable Calcium

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Increasing Calcium in Your Diet

Calcium is used by the body to make teeth and bones strong and to help blood clot. Find out how much calcium you need and how much calcium is in certain foods.

Why do I need calcium?

Calcium is a mineral that the body needs to build strong bones and teeth. Calcium allows blood to clot normally, muscles and nerves to function properly, and the heart to beat normally. Most of the calcium in your body is found inside your bones.

What if I do not consume enough calcium?

If you do not consume enough calcium, your body begins to take calcium from your bones, decreasing your bone mass and putting you at risk for osteoporosis. Inadequate calcium intake may also increase your risk for high blood pressure.

How much calcium should I consume?

The following guidelines will help ensure that you are consuming enough calcium:

1.) Try to meet these recommended amounts of calcium each day (Recommended Dietary Allowances)

2.) Eating and drinking two to four servings of dairy products and calcium-rich foods a day will help ensure that you are getting enough calcium in your daily diet. Please refer to the table (below) for examples of food sources of calcium.

3.) The best sources of calcium are dairy products, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and calcium-fortified beverages such as almond and soy milk. Calcium is also found in dark-green leafy vegetables, dried peas and beans, fish with bones, and calcium-fortified juices and cereals.

4.) Vitamin D will help your body use calcium. Some of your daily vitamin D can be obtained through regular exposure to the sun. Vitamin D is also found in fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and swordfish. Beef liver, cheese, mushrooms, and egg yolks also provide small amounts. Most milk is fortified with vitamin D; however, foods made from milk, like cheese and ice cream, are usually not fortified. Vitamin D is added to many breakfast cereals and to some brands of orange juice, yogurt, margarine, and milk alternatives; check the labels.

Reading food labels:

The amount of calcium in a product is listed as the percent of daily needs based on 1000 milligrams (mg) of calcium per day. To calculate the milligrams of calcium, just add a zero to the percent of calcium on the label. For example, if 1 cup of milk contains 30% of calcium needs, then it contains 300 milligrams of calcium (See food label below).

How can I get enough calcium if I am lactose-intolerant?

Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk. It causes cramping, gas, or diarrhea when dairy products are consumed. Lactose intolerance occurs because of the body’s lack of lactase, an enzyme needed to digest lactose.

Here are some suggestions to help you meet your calcium needs if you are lactose-intolerant:

  1. Try consuming lactose -free milk such as Lactaid®, or calcium-fortified soy, almond, or rice milk.
  2. You may be able to tolerate certain dairy products that contain less milk sugar, such as yogurt and cheese. Try lactose-free or low lactose cheese or cottage cheese or lactose-free yogurt.
  3. Talk to your dietitian about other lactose-reduced products.
  4. Eat non-dairy foods that are good sources of calcium, such as broccoli, dried peas and beans, kale, collard, dark green leafy vegetables, canned salmon with soft bones, sardines, calcium-enriched fruit juice, blackstrap molasses, almonds, and tofu processed with calcium.

Should I take a calcium supplement?

If you are having trouble consuming enough calcium-rich foods in your daily meal plan, talk to your physician and dietitian for suggestions.

The amount of calcium you will need from a supplement depends on how much calcium you are eating from food. Calcium supplements and some antacids containing calcium may help you meet your calcium needs. Many multi- vitamin supplements contain a limited amount of calcium. Protein powders contain variable amounts of calcium.

Factors that optimize calcium absorption:

  • Limit calcium supplements to 600 mg elemental calcium maximum at a time. Review the Nutrition Facts label, and review the serving size and amount of calcium that is provided for that serving size.
    • One calcium carbonate supplement typically provides 500-600 mg elemental calcium.
    • One calcium citrate supplement typically provides 200-300 mg elemental calcium.
  • Calcium carbonate is best absorbed when taken with food.
  • Calcium citrate is best absorbed with or without food.
  • Avoid taking calcium and iron supplements at the same time.

Sources of calcium

Dairy

Food (serving size)Calcium (mg)
  
Milk, cow’s, 8 oz. (1 cup)250
Milk alternatives, calcium-fortified, 8 oz. (1 cup)200-250
Yogurt, 6 oz. (3/4 cup)250
Cheese, 1 oz. (1 cubic inch or 1 sice
Cottage cheese, 1 cup
Ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup
200
250
330
Pudding, 1/2 cup150
Ice creame, vanilla, soft serve, 1/2 cup125

Vegetables and fruit

Food (serving size)Calcium (mg)
  
Broccoli, chopped/cooked, 1 cup60
Kale, chopped/cooked, 1 cup95
Mustard greens, chopped/cooked, 1 cup125
Collard/turnip greens/*spinach, chopped/cooked, 1 cup122
Juices, calcium-fortified, 1/2 cup100

*Limited absorption

Protein

Food (serving size)Calcium (mg)
  
Tofu, processed with calcium, 1/2 cup200
Dried beans (soaked, cooked, or canned), 1 cup180
Salmon, canned, with bones, 3 oz.180
Sardines, canned, with bones, 2 fish92

Grain

Food (serving size)Calcium (mg)
  
Dry cereal, calcium-fortified, 3/4-1 cup100
Hot cereal, calcium-fortified, 1 cup150
English muffin, calcium-enriched, 1 piece100

Nuts, Seeds, Misc.

Food (serving size) Calcium (mg)
   
Almonds, whole, 1/4 cup 100
Sesame seeds, whole dried, 1 Tbsp. 88
Molasses, blackstrap, 1 Tbsp. 65

What are the health benefits of calcium?

Calcium is a key nutrient that many of us overlook in our diets. Almost every cell in the body uses calcium in some way, including the nervous system, muscles, and heart. Your body uses calcium to build healthy bones and teeth, keep them strong as you age, send messages through the nervous system, help your blood clot, your muscles contract, and regulate the heart’s rhythm.

If you don’t get enough calcium in your diet, your body will take it from your bones to ensure normal cell function, which can lead to weakened bones or osteoporosis. Calcium deficiency can contribute to mood problems such as irritability, anxiety, depression, and difficulty sleeping.

Despite these vital functions, many of us are confused about calcium and how to best protect our bones and overall health. How much calcium should you get? Where should you get it? And what’s the deal with vitamin D, magnesium, and other nutrients that help calcium do its job? This confusion means that many of us are not getting the recommended daily amount of calcium and approximately one in two women (and about one in four men) over the age of 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis.

Getting enough calcium in your diet is not just important for older people. It’s also vital for children, teens, and young adults since we continue building bone mass into our mid-20s. From then on, we can lose bone mass without sufficient calcium in our diets. Whatever your age or gender, it’s vital to include calcium-rich foods in your diet, limit those that deplete calcium, and get enough magnesium and vitamins D and K to help calcium do its job.

The calcium and osteoporosis connection

Osteoporosis is a “silent” disease characterized by loss of bone mass. Due to weakened bones, fractures become commonplace, which leads to serious health risks. People with osteoporosis often don’t recover after a fall and it is the second most common cause of death in women, mostly those aged 60 and older. Men are also at risk of developing osteoporosis, but typically 5 to 10 years later than women. For most people, osteoporosis is preventable, and getting enough calcium in your diet is the first place to start.

Food is the best source of calcium

Doctors recommend that you get as much of your daily calcium needs as possible from food and use only low-dose supplements to make up any shortfall. Your body is better able to absorb calcium from food than it can from supplements. In fact, studies show that even though people who take calcium supplements have a higher average intake, those who get their calcium from food have stronger bones. Furthermore, using high-dose calcium supplements may increase your risk of kidney stones and heart disease.

Good food sources of calcium

Good sources of calcium include dairy products, leafy green vegetables, certain fish, oatmeal and other grains, tofu, cabbage, summer squash, green beans, garlic, sea vegetables and calcium-fortified foods such as cereals and orange juice.

Good food sources of calcium
Food Milligrams (mg) per serving
Yogurt, plain, low fat, 8 ounces 415
Mozzarella, part skim, 1.5 ounces

 

Cheddar cheese, 1.5 ounces

Cottage cheese, (1% milk fat), 8 ounces

Cheese, cream, regular, 1 tablespoon

333

 

307

138

14

Milk, nonfat, 8 ounces

 

Milk, reduced-fat (2% milk fat), 8 ounces

Milk, whole (3.25% milk fat), 8 ounces

Soymilk, calcium-fortified, 8 ounces

299

 

293

276

299

Ready-to-eat cereal, calcium-fortified, 1 cup 100-1,000
Sardines, canned in oil, with bones, 3 ounces

 

Salmon, pink, canned, solids with bone, 3 ounces

325

 

181

Tofu, firm, made with calcium sulfate, 1/2 cup

 

Tofu, soft, made with calcium sulfate, 1/2 cup

253

 

138

Turnip greens, fresh, boiled, 1/2 cup

 

Kale, raw, chopped, 1 cup

Kale, fresh, cooked, 1 cup

Chinese cabbage, bok choy, raw, shredded, 1 cup

Broccoli, raw, 1/2 cup

99

 

100

94

74

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Calcium and whole milk dairy: The pros and cons

While milk and other dairy products contain a lot of calcium in a highly absorbable form, there may be some potential downsides.

Whole milk dairy products are often high in saturated fat. Many prominent health organizations recommend that you limit your saturated fat intake and choose low- or non-fat dairy foods, though an increasing body of research shows that eating whole-milk dairy products is linked to less body fat and lower levels of obesity. Low-fat and non-fat dairy products also tend to contain lots of hidden sugar to make up for the loss of taste, which can be far more detrimental to your health and weight than the saturated fat it’s replaced.

Milk can contain high levels of estrogen. Some studies show a possible link between the natural estrogens found in milk and breast, prostate, and testicular cancer. Part of the problem is modern dairy practices, where the cows are fed synthetic hormones and antibiotics, kept continuously pregnant, and milked over 300 days per year. The more pregnant the cow, the higher the hormones in the milk. Organic milk comes from cows that are grass-fed and not given synthetic hormones or other additives, although organic milk can still be high in natural hormones. Because both natural and synthetic hormones are found in the milk fat, skim milk has a much lower level.

Some people are lactose intolerant, meaning they are unable to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and milk products. Symptoms range from mild to severe, and include cramping, bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Beyond the discomfort it causes, lactose intolerance can also interfere with calcium absorption from dairy.

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