When I meet with clients at University of Michigan Health System Nutrition Counseling Centers, calcium is often a hot topic. Most women are aware that their risk of getting osteoporosis is much higher than men, but few know how dramatic the statistics are. About 80% of the estimated 10 million Americans with osteoporosis are women (Source: National Osteoporosis Foundation).
Beyond just the startling numbers, however, the reasons why women should care about osteoporosis are even more compelling. When bone mineral density is reduced because of osteoporosis, you have an increased risk of a bone fracture.
The good news is – you really can do something to affect your risk. Calcium is a contributing factor to having stronger bones, and the best way to get the recommended amount of calcium is through the foods we eat. Here are some tips to help with your choices.
Be informed. Calcium is important throughout life, but the amount of calcium required does fluctuate. For women ages 19-50, I recommend 1000 mg of calcium per day. As women get older, bones naturally become weaker so that need increases to 1200 mg a day for women over age 50.
Read labels. If a food label says it contains “15 % of your daily calcium” change the percent sign to a zero, and you will have the amount of milligrams it contains – 150.
When and how matters, too. I wish getting the right amount of calcium was as simple as how much you take – but there are other factors to consider as well.
- Spread your calcium throughout the day for better absorption.
- In addition to when you take your calcium, what else you consume with your calcium matters, also. I have had clients tell me that they take their iron supplement with a glass of milk. Sounds like a double win – calcium and iron at the same time, right? Unfortunately, iron interferes with calcium absorption. Once people know that, it is a mistake they don’t repeat.
Choose dairy. The best sources of calcium are dairy foods like milk, cheese, and yogurt. I generally recommend low-fat and skim options. Greek yogurt is very popular, and it is higher in protein than other types of yogurt. Lactose free options are available for milk, cheese, and yogurt. Read labels to find the healthiest choices.
Start Young. Children’s bones are growing so it is important to include calcium in your diet starting at a young age. From ages 1-3 children need 500 mg a day and that increases to 800 mg for children from ages 4-8. During later adolescent and teenage years, ages 9-18, calcium intake is crucial for bone development as the greatest accumulation of bone strength and density occurs during this time period.
Low-fat and skim milks, cheeses, and yogurts are also great foods to ensure that children get enough calcium. Adding melted cheese to vegetables is a win, win for making vegetables more appealing to kids and adding calcium to a meal. Freezing yogurt makes it more like ice cream and potentially more interesting for kids.
I love sharing information with my clients that empowers them to make healthy choices.. Whether it’s calcium you’re concerned about or something else related to your health – when you have questions, seek answers!
What are your favorite ways to fit calcium into your daily life? Let us know using the “Comments” section below!
University of Michigan Health System Patient Food & Nutrition Services team members develop meal plans and other food services for patients of our three hospitals, in addition to providing nutrition counseling at our outpatient centers.
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