Calcium Counts

by Carolyn J. Strange
FDA Consumer Magazine

Your skeletal calcium bank has
to last through old age. Frequent deposits to this retirement account should
begin in youth and be maintained throughout life to help minimize
withdrawals. Most women get much less calcium than they need–as little as

Nutritionists recommend
meeting your calcium needs with foods naturally rich in calcium. Adequate
calcium intake in childhood and young adulthood is critical to achieving
peak adult bone mass, yet many adolescent girls replace milk with
nutrient-poor beverages like soda pop. “Bone health requires a lot of
nutrients and you’re likely to get most of them in dairy products,”
says Connie Weaver, Ph.D., who heads the department of food and nutrition at
Purdue University, Indiana. “They’re a huge package rather than just a
single nutrient.” With so many low-fat and nonfat dairy products
available, it’s easy to make dairy foods part of a healthy diet. People who
have trouble digesting milk can look for products treated to reduce lactose.
A serving of milk or yogurt contains about 350 milligrams (mg) of calcium.
Fortified products have even more.

“People who don’t consume
dairy foods can meet their calcium needs with foods that are fortified with
calcium, such as orange juice, or with calcium supplements,” says Mona
S. Calvo, Ph.D., in FDA’s Office of Special Nutritionals. Other good sources
of calcium are broccoli and dark-green leafy vegetables like kale, tofu (if
made with calcium), canned fish (eaten with bones), and fortified bread and
cereal products.

Nutrition labels can help you
identify calcium-rich foods. But keep in mind that the label value is a
guideline based on a FDA’s Daily Value for calcium, which is 1,000 mg, and
your calcium needs may be greater, Calvo says.

What about too much calcium?
As much as 2,000 mg per day seems to be safe for most people, but those at
risk for kidney stones should discuss calcium with their doctors. Calcium is
critical, but even a high intake won’t fully protect you against bone loss
caused by estrogen deficiency, physical inactivity, alcohol abuse, smoking,
or medical disorders and treatments.