All foods contain vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients that help keep your body healthy. Calcium is especially important for bone health, it is also needed for heart, muscles, and nerves to function properly and for blood to clot normally. If your daily calcium intake is low, calcium will be removed from the bones to perform these functions.
Dairy products are a good source of calcium as well as protein, phosphorus, and other nutrients. In fact, about 70%of calcium in the American diet comes form milk and milk products. Low-fat and fat-free dairy products are just as rich in calcium as full-fat versions–and abetter choice if you are watching the total fat and saturated fat in your diet.The calcium in dairy products is easily absorbed by the body. Other calcium sources include some fruits, vegetables, grains, and fish. Also consider calcium-fortified products such as orange juice, cereal, rice and bread. See the chart below for the calcium content of some common foods.
Recent studies indicate that most adults get only one-third to one-half of their recommended daily calcium requirement. See the chart below for a list of recommended daily intakes of calcium (mg/day) from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).
People who are unable to consume enough calcium from food sources can make up the difference by taking a calcium supplement. Several different calcium compounds are used in commonly available supplements. These compounds contain varying amounts of elemental calcium, which is the actual amount of calcium available to the body. Read supplement labels carefully to determine how much elemental calcium you are actually consuming.
Tips For Taking Supplements
- Avoid the use of bone meal or dolomite (these may contain lead or other toxic metals) unless the supplement has the USP symbol – a sign of purity.
- Calcium is best absorbed when taken in small amounts (500 mg or less) throughout the day.
- More isn’t necessarily better – too much calcium can flood your body’s absorption sites and keep you from getting enough iron, magnesium and zinc.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Consult your physician about possible interactions between calcium supplements and other prescription or over-the-counter medications. Ask your pharmacist to recommend a supplement.
The Role of Vitamin D
Vitamin D plays an important role in calcium absorption and in bone health. Vitamin D allows calcium to leave the intestine and enter the bloodstream to be absorbed.
Vitamin D is formed naturally in the body after fifteen minutes of exposure to sunlight. Studies show that vitamin D production decreases in the winter and is lower in people who are elderly or housebound. These individuals may require vitamin D supplements to ensure a daily intake of at least 400 IU (International Units), but no more and 800 IU.
Most multivitamins and some calcium supplements contain vitamin D. Check the label for the amount. Other sources are fortified dairy products, egg yolks, saltwater fish and liver.