Calcium – it is an important nutrient for the growing child and it continues to be important for the healthy adult as they age. Inadequate calcium intake is linked to osteoporosis, a disease characterized by porous and fragile bones, and it is a serious public health concern for more than 10 million U.S. adults, 80% of whom are women. Another 34 million have osteopenia, or low bone mass, which precedes osteoporosis. An estimated 1.5 million fractures occur each year in the U.S. due to osteoporosis. One in 3 women and 1 in 5 men over the age of 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis. Now that you know the impact of insufficient calcium intake, let’s focus on what we can do to consume sufficient calcium and Vitamin D to maintain bone health with age.
Bone thinning occurs during the aging process as bone breakdown exceeds bone formation. Bones actually become thin and fragile, but that bone loss can be slowed and osteoporosis prevented by consuming more calcium and vitamin D. There are two main ways to get calcium in the daily diet. The first recommendation is eating foods containing calcium every day and these foods include:
- Fat-free or low-fat (1% milk), yogurt and cheese – dairy foods are the main food contributors
- Vegetables like broccoli, kale and Chinese cabbage
- Soy products with added (fortified) calcium such as soymilk and tofu
- Canned salmon and sardine – calcium is found in the soft edible bones
- Orange juice with added calcium, as well as some ready-to-eat cereals.
Another way to increase calcium is to take a multivitamin or calcium supplement each day. There are different types of calcium supplements that vary in how much elemental calcium they provide and how they easy they are to digest. Talk to your healthcare provider before taking extra calcium. If you do take a calcium pill, make it easy to remember to take it with these suggestions:
- Take it at the same time every day. For example, take it when you brush your teeth before bed.
- Leave the pill bottle out where you will see it – on the kitchen counter or bathroom sink.
Due to absorption rate, recommended calcium intakes are higher for females older than 50 years, and for both males and female older than 70 years – that recommendation is 1200 mg per day. The Daily Value (DV) on the Nutrition Facts Panel on any food label will tell you the amount of calcium in one serving of that food. 20% DV of calcium indicates an excellent choice and 10% DV of calcium is good.
Did you know that vitamin D helps your body to absorb calcium? Most people meet some of their vitamin D needs through exposure to sunlight, but season of the year, time and length of day, cloud cover, skin melanin content and sunscreen are among the factors affecting the synthesis of vitamin D. Fortified foods provide most of the vitamin D in the American diet, with almost all U.S. milk having vitamin D added. Other products such as ready-to-eat cereals and some brands of orange juice, yogurt and margarine have added vitamin D. Very few foods in nature contain Vitamin D – the flesh of fatty fish (tuna and salmon) and fish liver oils are the best sources. Vitamin D supplements are available, but again, check with your healthcare provider before taking extra Vitamin D.
Consuming sufficient calcium and Vitamin D is very important for your continued good health. If you are concerned that you are not getting enough calcium or Vitamin D in your diet, talk to your physician about ways that you can improve your intake. Keep your bone health strong for years to come.
Source materials retrieved from “Calcium” (updated 3/2/2017) and “Vitamin D” (updated 3/2/2018); both from NIH Office of Dietary Supplements/U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets ; “Get Enough