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.
Nancy, I eat a vegan diet, hence I do not drink cow’s milk. Which is a better source of protein: soy, almond or rice milk?
There’s no debate: Soy milk is a far superior source of protein compared to almond or rice milk. That’s because soy, like cow’s milk, contains complete proteins and offers all the essential amino acids needed for building muscles and healthy bodies. Almond milk and rice milk, on the other hand, are protein-poor. Their labels even say, “Not to be used as an infant formula”. That says to me the products are not life sustaining. That is, a little baby can thrive on soy (or cow) milk, but not rice or almond milk. Note: the term “milk” can be misleading. A preferable term is “beverage”, “drink” or “dairy alternative.”
When comparing the food labels, you can see that:
• Soy milk offers about 7 to 11 grams of protein per 8 ounces (depending on the brand).
• Almond milk offers only 1 grams of protein per 8 ounces. Almonds are expensive, so not much ends up in the beverage. You’d be better off eating a handful of whole almonds.
• Rice milk offers 1 gram protein —or less—per 8 ounces. Rice milk is mostly carbohydrate and is “watery.”
Most almond, rice and soy beverages are fortified with calcium, but be sure to read the label because not all are fortified. For example, Nature’s Promise rice milk has 30% of the RDA for calcium whereas Rice Dream offers only 2%.
You want to buy a product that is not only calcium-fortified but also fortified with (at least) vitamin D and B-12.
In terms of taste and acceptability, you’ll want to sample several brands; they can vary greatly in taste and texture. The most popular options tend to be sweetened with rice syrup, evaporate cane juice or some other natural sweetener.
Here’s how some popular brands compare (8 ounces per serving):
Almond Breeze 60 calories 1 g Protein 2.5 g Fat 30% calcium
Nature’s Promise 100 calories 0 g Protein 2 g fat 30% calcium
Rice Dream 120 calories 1 g Protein 2.5 g Fat 2% calcium
Silk 100 calories 7 g protein 4 g Fat 30% calcium
EdenSoy 130 calories 11 g protein 4 g Fat 20% calcium
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.
I have a question about getting calcium from foods vs pills.
I’ve been a lacto-octo vegetarian for about 30 years and I’m a big soy milk drinker. You say calcium-fortified soy milk is a good source of calcium. I don’t see much difference between getting the calcium from the soy milk or from a pill, because the soy milk has had a calcium pill dissolved in it to make it “fortified”. What’s the difference?
There's not much of a difference in terms of calcium. But when you get the calcium via soy milk, you at least get the protein and a myriad of other good nutrients along with the calcium. If you just take the pill, you might “forget” to drink the soy milk and you'll miss out on all the good stuff it offers--including high quality protein that vegetarians might not get otherwise.
As you know, eating whole foods is always preferable to taking supplements; so many bioactive compounds are in foods that are not in pills. Supplementing a whole food can further boost the health value.
Enjoy your fortified soy milk!
For more information about calcium, protein and supplements:
Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook, Chapters 1. 7 and 11
I am a novice runner and I got woken at 3:00 a.m. with muscle cramps in my calves. How can I avoid these in the future?
While some people think muscle cramps are due to low potassium and recommend eating potassium-rich bananas as the solution, I question if that is the only answer. Certainly, eating bananas is always a good idea. But I doubt if the muscle cramp is due to low potassium. That would require an incredible amount of sweat loss. Novice runners usually cannot exercise long enough to deplete themselves of potassium.
Here's how a few popular sports foods compare in potassium content:
Potential potassium loss in a two hour workout: 300 to 800 mg
Potassium in 8 ounces of Gatorade: 30 mg
Potassium in one medium banana: 450 mg
Potassium in 8 ounces of orange juice: 475 mg.
Potassium in 8 ounces yogurt: 520 mg.
You might want to try:
-- stretching more after you exercise.
-- drinking enough fluids so you are urinating every two to four hours of the daytime (a sign you are well hydrated). \
-- consuming at least two to three cups of milk or yogurt a day. (That's the amount you need to get adequate calcium for your bones, to say nothing of for your muscles.)
Some people anecdotally report calcium helps resolve muscle cramps.