Monday, July 08, 2002

Need for calcium lasts a lifetime

By Hollie W. Best
Gannett News Service

        Three of four adult women don't meet their calcium needs. Calcium is key to keeping your body running smoothly. It is the most abundant mineral in the human body. Calcium is the mineral in your body that makes up your bones and keeps them strong.

        Ninety-nine percent of the calcium in your body is stored in your bones and teeth. Also, calcium is required for blood clotting, transmission of signals in nerve cells, and muscle contraction.

        The need for calcium starts before your birth and extends throughout your lifetime. By age 35, your bones are about as strong as they are ever going to be. The calcium that you provide to your bones when you are young determines how well they will hold up later in life.

        The most recent government survey of the eating habits of Americans confirms that most people are not getting enough calcium. Teenagers, young women and post-menopausal women in particular are consuming far less than is healthy — and less than their bodies need.

        The National Academy of Sciences has established guidelines for calcium that are 25 percent to 50 percent higher than previous recommendations. For ages 19 through 50, calcium intake is recommended to be 1,000 milligrams daily; for adults older than 51, the recommendation is 1,200 milligrams daily. The most common supplemental amount for adults is 800-1,000 milligrams per day.

        Most dietary calcium comes from dairy. Because dairy products are one of the easiest ways to meet calcium needs, the USDA Food Guide Pyramid recommends two to three servings from the milk, yogurt and cheese group every day.

        Most Americans do not eat the recommended number of servings to get the calcium they need. On average, if you're not drinking three glasses of milk per day, you're not getting enough. Here are some tips to help you increase calcium in your diet:

        • Calcium is found in foods such as dark green, leafy vegetables, nuts, grains, beans, tofu, canned salmon and sardines (if you eat the bones).

        • Add dry milk to casseroles, soups, gravies and sauces. One-fourth cup of dry milk provides 375 milligrams of calcium.

        • Sprinkle cheese on top of salads, soups, chili and baked potatoes. A single serving of cheese can give you 20 percent of the suggested daily intake.

        • Look for food items that have been fortified with calcium, such as orange juice and many grain products.

        • If you can't get enough calcium from your diet, talk to your doctor about taking a calcium supplement.

        • Take a calcium supplement with meals. For example, calcium carbonate is most effective with meals, and studies have shown that it may be better absorbed with food.

        • Take your calcium supplement in divided doses throughout the day. The body can absorb only so much calcium at one time, so try taking a supplement with two or three meals each day.

        • Decrease caffeine consumption. Consuming too much caffeine may cause your kidneys to excrete more calcium than they should. Try to limit caffeinated beverages to just two per day.

        • High-fiber foods may interfere with your body's ability to absorb calcium. Because many high-fiber foods are often eaten at breakfast, it is recommended to take calcium supplements later in the day.


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