The Calcium Connection

One day in 2nd grade wasn't going very well. I remember it clearly. Some unknown 7 year-old had neglected to drink all of their recess milk.  Yeah, serious stuff.  We were seated in traditional rows, all lined up waiting.  Mrs. Knaufala had decreed that no one was going out for recess until the guilty party confessed. We waited, and waited and waited...  I don't remember what happened after that, but the whole picture of Mrs. K standing there looking at us with those accusing eyes remains..

Granted, this was quite a few years ago, but why were we forced to drink warm cartons of milk?  (They always got delivered too early, so coolish-lukewarm was the best we got.) The message has been clear throughout our lives:  milk is good for you. Ads use celebrities sporting milk mustaches, "Milk, It Does a Body Good," "Got Milk?" We are encouraged by health experts to include 2 - 4 servings of dairy each day all of our lives.  Why?

Milk and many other dairy products contain the richest food source of calcium, a very important mineral to our health. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body.  99% of it is stored in bones and teeth, and the other 1% zips around in blood, muscle cells and in other body fluids.

As children grow, consuming enough calcium is important to help build strong teeth and the maximum potential bone size and density. It's also important for adults to consume enough calcium to maintain bone density and to maintain health.

Calcium is critical for muscle contraction and relaxation, enabling blood vessels to expand, helps blood clot properly, and helps transmit messages in the nervous system.  Since your heart is a muscle, calcium even helps regulate heart rhythm.  Studies have indicated that calcium helps lower blood pressure, and may in fact help reduce symptoms of PMS.

The bones act as a calcium bank for your body. Think of a savings account at the bank. If calcium levels are too low, your body will reach into calcium stores in bones, withdrawing calcium for necessary body functions. If you keep withdrawing all the time and neglect to deposit more calcium, your bones will become weaker and more porous, increasing the risk for osteoporosis and fractures.

High intakes of salt, protein, and caffeine increase the amount of calcium secreted in urine. One latte won't cause problems, but extremely high caffeine intakes for a long period of time may.

The recommended levels of calcium:
       Adults age 19 - 50       1000 mg/day
       Women age 51+          1200
       Men, age 51 - 70         1000
       Adults, age 70+           1200

Calcium Content of Foods:
      Yogurt, 8 oz plain                                  400
      Milk, 8 oz.                                             300 mg
      Soy milk, fortified, 8 oz                          300
      Yogurt, 8 oz fruit flavored or light            200 - 300
      Sardines, 4                                            240
      Cheese, 1 oz                                         150 - 200
      Artichoke, 1 med.                                   135
      Greens, collards, turnip, beet 1/2 cup       70 - 110
      Cottage cheese, 1/2 cup                          70
      Navy, pinto beans, 1/ 2 cup                     50 - 60
      Hummus, 1/2 cup                                   60
      Broccoli, 1/2 cup                                    45
      Almonds, 12                                           35

Are you getting enough calcium everyday? If you are a dairy consumer, it's much easier to reach the recommended levels. If you don't, it becomes a bit more difficult.  Calcium is now fortified in some foods like orange juice, cereal, and breads, which can help many of us achieve a good intake.

Stay tuned for The Calcium Connection, Part II, when we'll examine the use of calcium supplements and any dangers too much calcium can create. Until then, enjoy a nice glass of milk or a cup of cocoa made with soy milk. To your health!