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Calcium important at all ages

Pouring milk into a glass

Most of us have heard since the time we were small, "Finish your milk so you can grow to be big and strong." If one were to ask 2nd grade students, "What makes your bones and teeth strong?" most kids would quickly answer, "Milk!"

As we get older, we learn that calcium is the mineral that is important for healthy bones and teeth, and additional dairy foods like cheese, yogurt and even ice cream are great sources of calcium. While we were all young and growing, must of us will admit we were motivated to eat our dairy foods and consumed the recommended number of three to four servings per day. For many, pizza, ice cream and chocolate milk were our favorite sources of calcium.

For many, calcium intake lower than recommended

In adulthood, however, many Americans do not consume the recommended number of dairy servings per day, which may make it likely that their intake of calcium is lower than recommended. For some, the reason may be due to no longer thinking calcium is needed because they are done growing, while for others it may be due to trying to save on calories in their weight management or loss efforts, or it may be a result of lactose intolerance or a vegan lifestyle choice. But the facts are:

  • Throughout life, adequate levels of calcium along with vitamin D and weight-bearing physical activity are necessary to keep bones strong to reduce the risk of fractures as we age.
  • The calcium in dairy foods may help with weight loss and reduce the risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
  • Low-fat or fat-free dairy products are a great source of other key nutrients important to our health like potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, protein, vitamin B 12, vitamin A, vitamin D and riboflavin.
  • Lactose intolerance does not mean all dairy foods must be removed from your diet. There are many tips that may work to manage your degree of intolerance, and the commissary carries lactose-free milk and other dairy products.
  • For those who choose not to consume dairy foods due to allergies, lactose intolerance or dietary preferences, there are many non-dairy calcium sources to meet your needs.

Check Nutrition Facts label

Nutrition Label

No matter your dietary preference or tolerance, you should aim for choosing calcium from a variety of food sources and try to meet the recommended daily amount. Aim to choose mostly low-fat or non-fat and no-sugar-added items. Be sure to review the Nutrition Facts label on food packages.

Look at the Percent Daily Value (%DV) for calcium so you know how much one serving of the food item contributes to your daily needs. Keep in mind, the DV is based on 1,000 milligrams (mgs) and some groups like adolescents and post-menopausal women need a bit more calcium, so adjust accordingly. The example above provides 300 mgs of calcium for one serving. A food with 20 percent DV (200 mgs) or more contributes a lot of calcium to your daily total, while one with 5 percent (50mgs) DV or less contributes a little.

Try grilled portabella mushrooms

One strategy to incorporate calcium in your diet is to top your salads and vegetables with your favorite cheeses. Try one of my family's favorites, grilled portabella mushrooms. Not only are these delicious and kid approved, they are also quick to the table and can be made in the oven. I use this recipe to make a family meal by serving them on a whole wheat bun with lettuce and tomato and with a fruit parfait made with yogurt. Be sure to review other folks' comments about serving suggestions and how to change the recipe to fit your taste.

Another strategy is to increase the variety of your diet by using non-dairy, calcium-rich foods like tofu; some dark green leafy vegetables; broccoli; and nuts, to name a few. Summer Quinoa Stir-Fry is a great non-dairy, vegan and gluten-free, tasty meal that is also full of protein. This recipe can also be modified to suit your food preferences and lifestyle. If tofu isn't your thing, consider using navy beans as a source of calcium. This change will still keep the meal vegan and gluten-free.

Resources

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