If you are among the many people who take calcium supplements, think again. While any calcium is better than no calcium, a calcium-rich diet is the best bet for bone health. Here's some info to help you keep your skeleton strong.
• You have a life-long need for calcium because your bones are constantly in flux, remodeling by releasing and then redepositing calcium.
• After menopause, the balance between bone breakdown and formation shifts, resulting in bone loss and therisk of osteoporosis—particularly if you are not eating adequate calcium-rich foods.
• The body’s ability to absorb calcium declines with age. That’s explains why the recommended intake of calcium goes from 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams per day for women over 50 and men over 70.
• Calcium depends on stomach acids to be absorbed, so consuming calcium as a food (as opposed to a supplement) enhances calcium absorption. Plus small doses of calcium are absorbed better than 500 mg doses. Hence, eating a calcium-rich food at each meal is preferable to the unnatural consumption of one big bolus of calcium via supplement.
• Yogurt (not Greek) offers more calcium ounce for ounce, than milk, plus the active cultures in yogurt increase the body’s absorption of calcium.
• If you are counting on spinach, collards, and Swiss chard for calcium, heads up. Those foods have a high level of oxalic acid, which binds calcium so you absorb less than the nutritional numbers promise. If you eat a wide variety of foods, this is of little significance, because the DRIs take into account dietary factors that effect absorption. But if veggies are your main calcium source, think again.
• Be sure to get adequate vitamin D (800 IUs daily) to make use of the calcium you consume.
Many of my clients like to "save calories" by taking a calcium pill instead of drinking milk. While they may think that is a reasonable alternative, I disagree. Yes, a calcium pill does offer a lower calorie alternative to consuming the recommended three (8-ounce) glasses of (soy) milk or yogurt each day, but research indicates milk drinkers tend to be leaner than milk avoiders. That suggests milk is not fattening but rather slimming!
I encourage my clients to embrace milk as a “liquid food” that is satiating and curbs one appetite. That is, milk can be more filling than the same number of calories from soda or juice. Drinking a glass of milk with a meal can fill you up, as opposed to drinking water and then be left hankering for dessert (with far more calories than a glass of milk).
Most of my active female clients reduce weight on 1,800 calories; men on 2,100+ calories. That breaks down to 500 to 600 calories per meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner) and 300 calories for a snack. Enjoying low-fat (soy) milk on cereal, a mid-morning latte and a yogurt for a snack seems a powerful way to spend 300 of those calories and approach the recommended intake of 1,000 milligrams of calcium per for adults 19-50 years; 1,200 mg for adults older than 50 years, and 1,300 mg for kids 9-18 years.
If you are a parent, be a role model and drink (soy) milk at dinner to encourage a calcium-rich intake for your kids. Building strong bones during the ages of 10 to 18 is a wise investment for the future. Milk offers far more than just calcium; it’s a rich source of vitamin D, protein, riboflavin and a host of life-sustaining nutrients. Think twice before trading this wholesome food for an engineered pill.