Calcium – What You Need to Know
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Why is calcium so important to my health?
Calcium is a mineral found in your body. Most of the calcium is found in your bones and your teeth. You need plenty of calcium to keep them healthy and strong throughout your life. There is also calcium in your blood, in your muscles and in the fluid between your cells. Your body uses calcium to help blood vessels and muscles expand and contract, and to regulate the pH level of your blood. It also helps produce hormones and enzymes as well as move impulses through your nervous system.
How much calcium do I need?
Your body can’t make calcium, so it’s important to make sure that you provide it with all the calcium it needs. Canadian adults aged 19-50 need 1000 mg of calcium each day or 2 servings of milk or alternatives. Adults age 51 and older should aim for an intake of 1200 mg of calcium every day, or 3 servings of milk and alternatives. It is best to get your calcium throughout the day rather than all at once. You can do this by eating a calcium-rich food with every meal. Before taking a calcium supplement, ask your health care provider what is right for you. You should also be sure to get enough vitamin D each day to help your body absorb the calcium.
What happens if I don’t get enough calcium?
If your body doesn’t have enough calcium and vitamin D to support important body functions, it takes calcium from your bones. Over time, this calcium loss can put you at risk for osteoporosis. Osteoporosis occurs when the inside of the bones become porous from a loss of calcium. This is called losing bone mass.
The following people are at higher risk for low calcium levels:
- Postmenopausal women
- Women who have eating disorders, such as anorexia or the female athlete triad disorder
- People who do not eat animal, fish or dairy products (vegans)
- Women with premenstrual syndrome
- People who take medicine for osteoporosis
- People who have parathyroid disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, liver or kidney disease
What foods are good sources of calcium?
It’s best to try to get your calcium from food. Non-fat and low-fat dairy products, such as yogurt, cheese and milk, are good sources of calcium. Other sources of calcium include dried beans, tofu, pink salmon, spinach and broccoli. Some foods, such as orange juice, breads, dry breakfast cereals and dairy substitutes, may be fortified with calcium.
The following are examples of foods that are good sources of calcium:
- Non-fat or low-fat yogurt, plain (175 g = ¾ cup)
- Non-fat or low-fat cheese (50 g = 1 ½ ounces)
- Milk (250 mL = 1 cup)
- Enriched soy, almond or rice milk (250 mL= 1 cup)
- Fish and seafood such as sardines (75 g = 2 ½ ounces), pink salmon (75g = 2 ½ ounces)
- Beans – white, navy, canned or cooked 175 mL = ¾ cup
- Almonds (60 mL = ¼ cup), figs (5 figs = 137 mg)
- Spinach, cooked (125 mL = ½ cup) and collard greens, cooked (125 mL = ½ cup)
What about supplements?
Your health care provider may suggest taking a calcium supplement. If you are not getting or cannot get the recommended amount of calcium from your diet, or if you are not certain if your diet is giving you enough calcium, then you should discuss whether you need to take a low dose calcium supplement with your doctor. You should not just take a calcium supplement on your own
There are two main types of calcium supplements: calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Both types of supplement will give your body enough calcium. An over-the-counter (OTC) antacid that contains calcium carbonate is inexpensive and easy to take, and it can give you the calcium you need.
To avoid possible side effects, take calcium carbonate with meals. If you choose calcium citrate, you can take it on an empty stomach. If you take thyroid medicine or iron supplements, be sure to take these medicines separate from your calcium supplement. Contact your health care provider if you have any questions about calcium supplements.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Dietitians of Canada
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