Calcium 101

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in your body. It’s essential to total body health. Most Americans think they’re getting enough calcium everyday but, the truth is, most are not. Here are facts you should know.

Strong bones require calcium. Calcium helps keep bones and teeth strong. Calcium helps prevent osteoporosis, which causes thinning of bone tissue and loss of bone density, particularly in women. But did you know that calcium is used by every cell and tissue in the body? It ensures proper functioning of muscles and nerves and helps in blood clotting. Calcium helps muscles contract, including your heart muscle. Research has shown that getting enough calcium may help lower blood pressure and prevent colorectal cancer. Other research has shown that people who get enough calcium may burn fat faster than those who don’t.

How do you know whether you’re getting enough? Adults need 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams per day. As you age, your body is less able to absorb calcium efficiently, so by age 51 or menopause, get at least 1,200 milligrams per day. For better absorption of calcium, make sure that you also get enough Vitamin D, and limit your sodium intake. As sodium travels through your body, it leaches calcium from your system.

There are no early signs that you’re calcium deficient. By the time you notice symptoms or suffer a fracture, you’ve already lost critical bone mass. If you suspect you aren’t getting enough, track your diet over a few days. If you have a family history of osteoporosis or have dietary restrictions, check with your doctor.

How can you add more calcium to your diet? To increase your calcium intake, try adding more of these to your diet:

Dairy products: One cup of nonfat milk contains 302 milligrams; a cup of low-fat yogurt has about 415 milligrams. If you don’t normally care for dairy products, try adding nonfat powdered milk to smoothies, soups, and casseroles.

Canned sardines (with bones): Three ounces contains 324 milligrams.

Dark, leafy greens, like collard greens, kale, and spinach: One-half cup of turnip greens supplies 104 milligrams.

Fortified foods: Many foods, such as breakfast cereals, soy products, and juices, are fortified with extra calcium. For example, orange juice with added calcium supplies 165 milligrams per half cup.

Calcium supplements: Consider a calcium supplement containing either calcium citrate or calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is absorbed better when taken with a meal; calcium citrate can be taken without food. Antacid tablets are an inexpensive calcium supplement (at about half the cost). One regular-strength Tums contains 500 milligrams of calcium carbonate.

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