Eating Well With Kim: Calcium

By: Kim Beavers Email
By: Kim Beavers Email

Bone health is not something we typically think about as teenagers.

This is why parents and grandparents should do the thinking for teens regarding this topic. My own grandmother had osteoporosis and I am quite aware of the effects of deteriorating bone health. However, that knowledge only gets me so far, as I am well past the age for developing peak bone mass. At my age, the only thing I can do is attempt to prevent bone loss.

According to the dietary guidelines, children age 9 and above should get three servings of dairy each day. This includes most adults as well.

And guess what ... we don’t get that much. Where teens are concerned, some of the decline in milk consumption is attributed to everyone’s favorite beverage villain -- SODA.

Each child and home is different, of course, and I don’t exactly know how you get teenagers to do anything you want them to -- and that includes drinking milk -- but I will offer these bits of advice in case they seem like something you can use in your home:

  • Keep the refrigerator stocked with dairy (low-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt).
  • Make foods containing milk-based ingredients see: Southeast Diary and Cabot Cheese for some recipe ideas.
  • Flavored milk is OK, too. I do encourage people to make their own flavored milk versus buying it pre-flavored to cut back on sugar, as getting the milk in is more important than taking the flavor out (in my opinion).

In addition to the above suggestions, you can also stock your home with many of the calcium-fortified products available these days. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Calcium and vitamin D fortified orange juice.
  • Ronzoni Smart Taste® pasta (fortified with calcium and vitamin D).
  • Breads fortified with calcium (there are several to choose from).
  • Some oatmeal is also fortified with calcium (see the nutrition facts panel for that information if you are not sure).
  • Some cereals are fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
  • Milk bites or other “bar” type foods are many times fortified with calcium and vitamin D.

Use these fortified products to help close the gap between the amount of calcium you should have and the amount you get. The amount of calcium we need depends on age and gender. There is a great little “calcium calculator” on the National Osteoporosis Foundation website where you can identify how much calcium you need AND how much you get from your diet.

This brings me to the next obvious question … Should you take calcium supplements? Well that depends on how much calcium you get from your diet. For example, if you need 1000 mg calcium a day and you get 500 mg a day, then “yes” you should take 500 mg calcium as a supplement.

The point, really, is that you don’t have to over-supplement and extra calcium does not necessarily provide extra benefit. Many calcium supplements come combined with vitamin D which is just fine, as vitamin D helps in the absorption of calcium. Another thing that is confusing about calcium is the food label. On the food label calcium is listed as a percentage of the daily value. If you are trying to aim for 1,000 mg calcium, you may wish to know the calcium milligrams versus the percentage.

Here is an example of how to read the food labels in regard to calcium and determine how many milligrams of calcium are in a specific food.

EWWK chart

To decide how much calcium is in a particular food, check the nutrition facts panel of the food label for the daily value (DV) of calcium.

Food labels list calcium as a percentage of the DV. This amount is based on 1,000 mg of calcium per day. For example:

  • 30% DV of calcium equals 300 mg.
  • 20% DV of calcium equals 200 mg of calcium.
  • 15% DV of calcium equals 150 mg of calcium.

Until next time: Eat well, shop well and live well!

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