You may know that calcium plays an important role in building healthy teeth and bones. What you may not know is that calcium is vital to every cell of the body for muscle function, nerve transmission, blood clotting and many other uses.
When you don't get enough calcium in your diet, the calcium stored in your bones is "stolen" to supply the rest of your body. Hence, your bones suffer the consequences of a low-calcium diet and they become more susceptible to fractures.
Looking to add more calcium?
- Drink skim or 1% milk with meals or as a snack.
- Increase your intake of calcium-rich foods when under stress.
- Ask your doctor about your medications (some decrease calcium absorption).
- Don't smoke - it decreases calcium absorption.
- Do exercise - it increases bone density (especially weight-bearing exercise).
- Use skim milk in soup instead of water.
- Limit caffeine intake, it can decrease calcium absorption.
- Add low-fat cheese to sandwiches, salads, casseroles, etc.
- Eat low-fat yogurt or cheese as a snack.
- Choose calcium-rich desserts.
- Avoid or limit alcohol - it can increase calcium loss.
Fortified foods are also a great way to get dietary calcium. When looking for a calcium-fortified version of a product, look for words on the packaging like "calcium-fortified," "excellent source of calcium (more than 200 mg of calcium)" or "good source of calcium (110-190 mg/serving)."
Some examples of calcium fortified foods include:
- Total Cereal™
- select varieties of Crystal Light™
- Honey Maid™ Graham Crackers
- Cheez-It™ Juniors
- Kellogg's Fruit Loops™
- Special K Plus™
- Eggo Waffles™
- Country Crock Spread™ (tub only)
- Soy milk
- Minute Maid™ & Tropicana™ orange juice
- OceanSpray™ cranberry juice
- Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice™
- Wonder Bread™
- Hostess Mini-muffins™
What about supplements?
It is not difficult to make low-fat food choices that are good sources of calcium. Although food is the preferred source of calcium, a supplement may be necessary to help you meet your daily calcium needs.
Avoid oyster shell, dolomite and bone meal supplements because they can contain significant amounts of lead and are absorbed less efficiently than calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is the most popular form, is chewable and is marketed by a number of companies.
Common brand names of calcium carbonate include Tums™, Rolaids™, Viactiv™, Caltrate™, Oscal™ and Titralac™.
Other types of calcium supplements are calcium citrate and calcium gluconate. Most supplements provide 500 mg of calcium per serving - take no more than 500 mg of calcium at one time to maximize absorption.
To avoid calcium toxicity, do not exceed 1500 mg of calcium per day.