Calcium — keep your bones healthy.

There’s no bones about it, you need adequate amounts of calcium to keep your bones healthy. Calcium is especially critical for bone health, and for the 44 million Americans for whom osteoporosis is a major health threat. The National Institutes of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases reports that 10 million Americans already have osteoporosis and 34 million more are at increased risk for the disease. Of special concern is the fact that 50% of women and 25% of men older than 50 will experience an osteoporosis-related fracture during their lifetime, contributing to the more than 1.5 million osteoporosis-related fractures that occur each year. Osteoporosis can also cause pain and limit mobility and thus have a negative impact on the quality of life.

Calcium is essential for more than bone health. This mineral also protects against colon cancer, is key to dental health, aids in the production of energy, and is critical for heart and nerve function.

National surveys show that many Americans consume less than 50% of the calcium they need. Because calcium needs change over a lifetime, many people forget to ensure they are getting enough of this critical mineral. As people age, the body becomes less efficient at absorbing calcium, and this problem is compounded by the fact that many older adults take medications that can impair calcium absorption. The need for more calcium also kicks in for both older men and women who are postmeno-pausal.

What You Can Do Now

According to the Institutes of Medicine, the recommended daily intake of calcium for both men and women is 1,000 mg daily for adults 31 to 50 years, and 1,200 mg for those older than 50. Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption, so try to get 400 to 600 IU (international units) per day up to age 70, and up to 800 IU if you are 70 or older. Here are some ways to ensure you get enough calcium.

  • Dairy foods can be a good source of calcium, but they also contain a lot of protein (see warning in bullet below). If you eat dairy products, include low-fat varieties.
  • Many non-dairy foods are also very good sources of calcium, including dark green, leafy vegetables such as bok choy, spinach, broccoli, and kale; sardines (with the bones) and salmon; tofu; and almonds.
  • Calcium in orange juice? You bet! Many foods are now fortified with calcium, including many brands of orange juice, cereals, breads, soy milk and soy cheese.
  • Moderate your protein intake. A diet that contains excess protein (many Americans consume too much protein, especially from animal sources) can contribute to the development of osteoporosis, because when excess protein leaves the body it often carries calcium with it. The World Health Organization recommends 0.45 grams of protein per kilogram (2.2 lbs) of ideal body weight per day, while the U.S. RDA recommends 0.8 grams as the maximum. Thus, if your ideal weight is 130 pounds, your minimum protein intake should be 27 grams and the maximum, 48 grams.

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