Calcium, most widely known for its role in maintaining bone health, is one of the most abundant minerals in the body. It is also found in a variety of foods from dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt, non dairy sources, such as broccoli, kale and canned salmon with the bones, and in fortified foods, such as calcium-fortified soy or almond beverages. Calcium is also found in supplements and even in some medications. While commonly known for keeping bones and teeth strong and healthy, calcium is also essential for nerve transmission and muscle function, as well as vascular functions and hormonal regulation.
Most calcium (approximately 99%) is stored in our bones and teeth. The body is very effective at continuously remodeling our bones, so that bones remain strong. Bone formation is highest in early growth periods, stabilizes into adulthood and can decrease in later years, increasing the risk of osteoporosis. A healthy diet balanced with calcium-rich food choices can help maintain bone health and decrease this risk.
Osteoporosis Canada has recently revised its calcium recommendations for bone health and osteoporosis prevention. In order to meet calcium requirements of 1000-1200 mg per day, adults are encouraged to obtain calcium from their diet first, and supplement as required to meet their goal.
Daily Calcium Requirement (this includes your diet and supplements)
|pregnant or lactating women 18+||1,000 mg|
*Osteoporosis Canada, 2012
On average, a standard serving of a calcium-rich food, such as a cup of milk, a ¾ cup serving of yogurt or a slice of cheese provides approximately 300 mg of readily absorbable calcium. One cup of fortified soy or almond beverage, a ½ can of salmon with the bones or 7 small sardines also provide the equivalent in calcium. Some calcium is more readily absorbed than other sources. Phytates and Oxylates are components in vegetables and grains that may compete for absorption, so it is recommended to include a variety of foods in the diet for maximum intake and absorption.
When choosing a calcium supplement, choose one that best fits your goals. Calcium carbonate and calcium citrate are the most common forms on the market, but the supplement that will work best is the one you will remember to take. Remember, the body prefers to absorb only small amounts at one time, so be sure to only ingest 500 mg of calcium at once. A registered dietitian can help you reach your calcium goals.
For more information about calcium-rich foods, visit www.osteoporosis.ca, www.dietitians.ca , or www.eatrightontario.ca. To find out how much calcium you think you are getting, check out the calcium calculators on these sites.
Lauren Davidson (B.A., R.D., C.D.E)
Lauren is a nutritionist and clinical consultant at the Cleveland Clinic in Toronto. She specializes in women's nutritional health management and family health and wellness.