Nutrient of Concern: Calcium

Nutrient of Concern: Calcium

Selection of food that is rich in calcium

By Rachel Green, contributing blogger

Most Americans consume much less than the recommended amount of fruits, vegetables, dairy, whole grains, and seafood. One of the big issues with under consuming these food groups is that you do not take in all the nutrients you need. The latest Dietary Guidelines calls out 5 nutrients as a public health concern. One of these 5 nutrients is the mineral calcium. Based on a typical diet, Americans are only taking in about 75% of the daily goal for calcium.  Find out why this bone building mineral is so important and how you can get your fill.

Why do you need calcium?
Calcium has long been celebrated as the mineral that helps build strong, dense bones during growth and keeps bones healthy later in life.  It does however play a role in several other key bodily functions.  Calcium also supports muscle movement, keeps the nerves talking, and clots the blood after injury.

Who is at risk for not getting enough?
If you don’t get the recommended amount of calcium regularly, it can lead to an array of health issues. There are also a number of risk factors associated with low calcium levels.  Studies have found that certain folks tend to have low amounts of calcium including women, older folks, those of Caucasian and Asian ethnicities, folks with a family history of low calcium, those on certain medications, and couch potatoes.

Long term calcium deficiency can affect your heart and muscle function. Over time, if you don’t take in enough calcium you bones can soften and become brittle. Decreased bone strength, or osteoporosis, is a disease which can increase the risk of broken bones, especially among older adults. Furthermore, it can lead to dental issues as your teeth are made of bone.

How much calcium do you need?
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) is determined based on age, with the highest recommended consumption during years of growth. Here are the numbers:

Age (years) RDA (mg)
1-3 700
4-8 1,000
9-18 1,300
18+ 1,000 (except females over 51 = 1,200 mg)

 

Best calcium sources
The sources with the highest concentration of calcium are milk and milk products with other top options being fortified foods.  Listed below are specific food examples:

Food (portion size) Calcium (mg)
 Fortified ready-to-eat cereals: (3/4-1¼ cup) 137-1000
Pasteurized processed American cheese (2 oz.) 593
Parmesan cheese, hard (1.5 oz.) 503
Plain yogurt, nonfat (8 oz.) 452
Romano cheese (1.5 oz.) 452
Almond milk, all flavors (1 cup) 451
Tofu, raw, regular, prepared with calcium sulfate (1/2 cup) 434
Plain yogurt, low-fat (8 oz.) 415
Pasteurized processed American cheese food (2 oz.) 387
Orange juice, calcium fortified (1 cup) 349

 

Some surprising sources of calcium that can provide you with about ¼ to ½ the amount of the mineral as the best sources include:
Frozen yogurt and ice cream

  • Cooked rhubarb
  • Almonds
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Okra
  • Medium orange
  • Dried figs
  • Fresh fish or seafood

Although it’s always recommended that you get calcium through food first, sometimes a supplement is necessary. Work with your physician and registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) to determine if a supplement is right for you.

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