Milk on your morning cereal or an occasional cup of yogurt are good sources of calcium, but they don’t come close to meeting a person’s daily calcium needs. In fact, the U.S. Surgeon General has singled out a lack of calcium as a major public health concern because osteoporosis threatens an estimated 44 million Americans, or 55 percent of people ages 50 and older.
Osteoporosis is a disease characterized by deteriorating bones and low bone mass, putting sufferers at higher risk of debilitating fractures. A balanced diet with foods rich in calcium is the first line of defense. But if you think you’re getting enough calcium in your daily diet, national statistics suggest otherwise. The Surgeon General says 75 percent of Americans are calcium deficient, and a recent study shows that most women underestimate their daily calcium needs by at least half.
Your body needs calcium for more than just bone health. If muscles and nerves don’t get enough of this essential mineral from daily nutritional “deposits,” then your body “borrows” calcium from your bones.
To maintain a healthy “savings account” of calcium, adults need at least 1,000 milligrams daily, while fast-growing teenagers need 1,300 milligrams a day, according to Dawn Jackson Blatner, a dietician at Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Wellness Institute.
“It’s a struggle for Americans to get that,” says Blatner, also a spokesman for the American Dietetic Association. “People don’t think about drinking milk. Our bodies use calcium for a lot of functions.”
Low-fat and soy milk are prime sources of calcium and vitamin D, which is needed to help the body absorb calcium. Other good calcium sources are leafy green vegetables, soybeans, sardines, yogurt and low-fat cheeses. Calcium-fortified products such as orange juice, cereal, oatmeal and even bottled water can help you get your daily requirement.
Blatner recommends natural foods as the best calcium source since they offer complex nutrients unrivaled by supplements such as pills or processed nutritional snack bars. For people who can’t get all they need from natural foods, Blatner recommends a multi-vitamin and, if necessary, a calcium supplement endorsed by U.S. Pharmacopeia, an authority on medicines and supplements. Look for supplements that offer calcium citrate plus vitamin D.
Visit www.eatright.org for more information from the American Dietetic Association.