Learn about the importance of calcium, good sources for this vital mineral, and its role in keeping our bones and other systems in good shape.
The effects of insufficient calcium intake
Although the mineral is most often associated with healthy bones and teeth, it also plays an important role in blood clotting, muscle contraction and regulating nerve functions and heart rhythm. For adults, and especially seniors, inadequate calcium intake is linked to osteoporosis, a disease characterized by porous and fragile bones and a serious public health concern.
- More than 10 million Americans have osteoporosis
- 80% of Americans who have osteoporosis are women
- About 2 million fractures occur each year in the U.S. due to osteoporosis
- One in two women and up to one in four men over the age of 50 will break a bone because of osteoporosis
- 44 million Americans have low bone density, which precedes osteoporosis
A healthy lifestyle that includes diet and exercise can help prevent and manage osteoporosis. Here are some steps you can take to consume sufficient calcium and vitamin D to maintain bone health as you age.
Ways to work calcium into your diet
Bone thinning occurs during the aging process as bone breakdown exceeds bone formation. Bones become thin and fragile, but that bone loss can be slowed, and osteoporosis is prevented by consuming more calcium and vitamin D. There are two main ways to get calcium in the daily diet.
Eat foods containing calcium every day, such as:
- 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
Take a multivitamin or calcium supplement each day
Different types of calcium supplements vary in the amount of elemental calcium provided and ease of digestion. Talk to your health care provider before taking extra calcium. If you do take a calcium pill, make it easy to remember with these suggestions:
- Take it at the same time every day
- Leave the pill bottle out where you will see it, perhaps on the kitchen counter or bathroom sink
- If you use a weekly pill organizer or reminder for prescriptions, include the supplement with the other medications
How to improve calcium absorption
Due to the 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. If you see 20% DV of calcium on a label, that indicates an excellent choice and 10% DV of calcium is good.
Vitamin D helps your body to absorb calcium
Most people meet some of their vitamin D needs through exposure to sunlight. However, factors such as the season of the year, time and length of day, cloud cover, skin melanin content, and sunscreen use can affect 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 also an option.
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.
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