2 April 2013 Calcium: Get Enough But Not Too Much!

Many of you take a calcium supplement since that is what you were told to do to prevent osteoporosis (weak and thin bones that can break more easily). But a recent study (EPIC-Heidelberg) has shown that calcium supplementation increases risk for having a heart attack. So what do you do to keep your bones strong but your risk of heart attack low?

Diet Vs. Supplements

The good news is that calcium consumed from food and beverages was not associated with an increased risk for heart attack. The study authors found that moderately high intake of dietary calcium was associated with a lower risk of heart attack.

Calcium Requirement

The RDA for calcium varies with age and sex. Adult men (19 – 70 yrs old) and women (19 – 50 yrs old) need 1000 mg daily. Women over the age of 50 and men over the age of 70 need 1200 mg.

  • 1000 mg calcium = about 3 servings of high-calcium foods/beverages
  • 1200 mg calcium = about 4 servings of high-calcium foods/beverages

Dietary Sources of Calcium

Dairy. Many dairy products are great sources of calcium – they provide about 300 mg of calcium per serving along with Vitamin D, a nutrient that is important for calcium absorption. If you are trying to lose weight and need to control calories, then go for reduced fat or fat-free choices for milk, cheese, and yogurt.

Fish With Bones. Sardines and other fish packed with their bones are excellent sources of calcium if you eat the bones: 3 oz sardines = 300 mg calcium.

Fortified Foods & Beverages. Calcium-fortified foods and beverages can be excellent sources of calcium. For instance, orange juice, soy, almond, and rice milk fortified with both calcium and vitamin D. For soy milk, choose brands that use calcium carbonate for a more “bioavailable” form of calcium (usable and available for absorption in the human gut). For tofu, choose those brands that are calcium-set for higher calcium content and bioavailability. Fortified breakfast cereals can also a good source of calcium.

Veggies. There are a number of food components in vegetables that can affect the bioavailability of calcium: the presence of other minerals in the food (e.g. iron and zinc), phytate/phytic acid (found in nuts, seeds, and grains), and oxalate/oxalic acid (found in greens such as spinach, Swiss chard, beet greens, chives, parsley, and sorrel).

Lower oxalate greens provide more bioavailable calcium – look for bok choy, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, collards, and kale.

For more information about vegetarian sources of minerals, be sure to read the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics position paper on vegetarian diets – it is written by vegetarians and is very thorough. After the summary paragraph, click the PDF link to see the entire article.

Exercise

In addition to consuming adequate calcium (and vitamin D) from foods and beverages, it is important to engage in regular weight bearing exercise to keep bones strong. An exercise regimen that includes both aerobic activity and weight lifting is a great combination. Ask your doctor for a referral to a physical therapist if you need help creating a program if you have an injury or physical limitation. Working with a personal trainer can also be a great investment to help create and follow an appropriate exercise plan.

Consult Your Doctor

Please consult your doctor if you have questions about the safety of your calcium supplement. Your doctor knows your medical history and can provide wise counsel on what is appropriate to ensure adequate calcium intake given multiple health issues.

Katherine Isacks, MPS, RD, CDE
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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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Foods & Recipes/Dairy Foods Nutrients/Calcium Nutrients/Supplements

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