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Bone Up on Calcium

Strong, healthy bones come from a diet rich in calcium. Learn why dairy isn't your only source.

Calcium is important at every age, but early adulthood is the best time for building bone mass. Bones increase in density until about age 30, but more than 95 percent of bone mass is accumulated by about age 20.

Unfortunately, 80 percent of teenage girls and 60 percent of teen boys aren't getting enough calcium, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This can put them at higher risk later for osteoporosis, a symptomless disease in its early stages but one that causes bones to deteriorate.

Adults, too, are falling behind in calcium intake. The average adult gets between 500 and 700 milligrams of calcium each day, far below the National Osteoporosis Foundation's daily recommendation of 1,000 to 1,500 milligrams. Many women have osteopenia -- lower amounts of bone mass than expected for their age --but have not yet developed osteoporosis.

Recommended Daily Amounts

Here's what you need at every age and stage of life.

  • Ages 1 to 10: 800 to 1200 mg
  • Ages 11 to 24: 1200 to 1500 mg
  • Women age 25 to 50: 1000 mg (pregnant and breastfeeding women should check with your doctor about increases during those life stages)
  • Men age 25 to 65: 1000 mg
  • Postmenopausal women: 1000 mg if on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) 1500 mg if not on HRT
  • Men over age 65: 1500 mg

Good Food Sources

Three to four daily servings of dairy products -- about 1,000 milligrams -- can protect your bones. Eight ounces of milk or yogurt 2 ounces of cheese 1-1/2 cups of ice cream These all count as one serving, and provide approximately 300 milligrams of calcium each. Broccoli, tofu, and canned salmon (with the bones) are also good sources of calcium.

Other ideas include:

  • Use milk instead of powdered creamer in your coffee.
  • Sprinkle sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, or cheese on your salad.
  • Drink a glass of calcium-fortified orange juice.

Calcium Supplements

The best way to get any mineral is through your food intake, but most women cannot get enough calcium by diet alone. There are several types of calcium supplements, but the two main types have either calcium carbonate or calcium citrate.

Calcium carbonate is more likely to cause bloating, constipation, and other symptoms, since the carbonate part can result in bloating similar to drinking lots of carbonated beverages. Calcium citrate causes less bloating and may be a better option if you find carbonate causes stomach cramping or other unwelcome gastrointestinal effects.

Improving Absorption

The best option for calcium supplementation is actually calcium capsules that also have vitamin D -- many women can use the additional vitamin D to improve calcium absorption.

Your body can absorb only 500 to 600 milligrams of calcium at a time, so take calcium throughout the day. If all you do is take several tablets once a day, you waste the supplement and delude yourself that you're getting your recommended daily requirement.

Calcium and Phosporus

Phosphorus in carbonated drinks was once thought to prevent the body from absorbing calcium out of calcium-fortified products. However, further studies showed differently. The real culprit was that sodas were being consumed in place of calcium-fortified drinks like milk. Each American consumed 56 gallons of soda in 1998, while the average consumption of milk was only 24 gallons per person.

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