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Calcium - is it just for growing kids?

Remember when you were a child and your mom said, "Drink your milk and you'll grow up strong?" As usual, Mom was right. However, many parents forgot to tell us to continue drinking milk after we finished growing. Our bodies' need for the nutrient calcium, which is found in milk, never stops growing.

Since calcium cannot be made in our bodies, we must make sure we eat enough calcium-rich foods every day. If we don't provide enough, our body pulls the calcium it needs from the calcium stored in our bones. Calcium helps our muscles contract and relax, our hearts to beat and our nerves to send messages. Too much calcium taken from our bones and not enough calcium replaced from the foods we eat could result in very weak and brittle bones, difficulty in chewing due to bone loss in the jaw, or possibly, a stroke or heart attack brought on by high blood pressure.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for individuals over age 25 is 800 mg calcium per day. Dairy foods provide the best source of calcium. One cup of 1% milk provides 300 mg calcium. Two ounces of mozzarella cheese provide 366 mg calcium and 1/2 cup of soft serve ice milk provides 137 mg. These three foods, if eaten in one day, would provide 807 mg calcium RDA. Some choices of meats, fruits, vegetables and grains also provide some calcium. Canned salmon and sardines with bones, spinach, turnip greens, broccoli and homemade waffles contain varying amounts of calcium. Foods such as orange juice, bread, cereal and yogurt may have calcium added to them. Look for the words "calcium-fortified" on food labels. Although calcium supplements are also available, it is better to get calcium from foods rather than from pills. Contact your doctor before taking a calcium supplement.

To add more calcium to your diet:

  • Use milk, instead of water, when you prepare creamed soups, hot cereal or cocoa.

  • Add a slice of cheese to sandwiches or grated cheese to tossed salads or baked potatoes.

  • Drink milk with your meals.

  • Try different fruit flavors of yogurt.

  • Enjoy calcium-rich desserts such as puddings made with milk, custards, ice milk or frozen yogurt.


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