Nutrition Notes: Calcium Counts!

We know calcium is an important nutrient, yet many people have a low calcium intake.

This raises the question -- Just how much calcium does a person need?

The (U.S.) National Institute of Health (NIH) has explored issues related to optimal calcium intake. Optimal calcium intake refers to levels of consumption necessary for an individual to:

* maximize peak adult bone mass,
* maintain adult bone,
* minimize bone loss in later years.

The new optimal calcium intake levels are higher in some instances than the recommeded daily amount (RDA) levels because the NIH levels are based on calcium intake needed to meet the three goals listed above.

How do we get calcium in our diet?

The preferred approach is to get optimal calcium intake from food versus supplements. Dairy products are the primary calcium source in the diet. Individuals who limit their intake of milk products can obtain calcium in certain green vegetables, some legumes, calcium-set tofu, canned fish, seeds, nuts and certain calcium-fortified foods and supplements. Bread and cereals can contribute significant amounts to calcium intake because of their frequent consumption. However, milk and milk products remain the major calcium source in Western diets.

Calculate how much calcium you usually consume. Current dietary guidelines suggest two to three servings of dairy products and three to five servings of vegetables per day. It is common for people following a low-fat diet for general health, hypercholesterolemia, or weight loss to decrease cheese or dairy food consumption significantly and drastically decrease calcium consumption unintentionally.

If your calcium intake is low, try to increase it in ways acceptable to you. Clearly, eating more low-fat dairy products, especially milk or foods made with milk, is the easiest way to increase calcium intake.

Assess your calcium intake again next month. If your calcium intake remains low, you may consider calcium supplements. The use of supplements needs to be in the context of the total diet, since the recommendations are for all sources of calcium. It's true that calcium supplements are not as well absorbed as calcium from food, but it is better to supplement than to go without this important mineral.

Calcium supplements are best absorbed when taken between meals; doses should not be greater than 500 mg calcium.

Boosting Your Calcium Intake

* Choose skim milk instead of coffee, tea or a soft drink with meals .
* Choose puddings. custards, ice milk or frozen yogurt for dessert
* Add non fat dry milk to skim milk for a super calcium drink!
* Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on vegetables, salads, soups and popcorn
* Combine low fat or non fat yogurt or skim milk with ice, fresh frozen fruits, juices or juice concentrates Mix in blender
* Use skim milk to replace part of the water in cooked cereals and soups
* Use plain non-fat yogurt to replace mayonnaise in salad dressings and other recipes
* Replace a cup of water with is cup of flavored yogurt in gelatin.
* Use farmers cheese, cottage cheese ricotta cheese as a spread on toast
* Include cooked dried beans frequently at meals.
* Use canned salmon in your favorite sandwich, casserole and salad
* Choose nuts as a snack

Calcium Quick Tip

Add 1-2 tablespoons nonfat dry milk to hot cereals, soups, stews,
casseroles, sauces, meatloaf, sandwich filling and mashed potatoes. This will give you a boost of 50-100 mg of calcium and only 15-30 calories.

Other choices...