Calcium Sources in the Diet

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September 6, 2013

Recently, concerns have been raised about the potential for calcium supplements to increase the risk for heart disease. On the other hand, we know that calcium intake is important for prevention of osteoporosis, and very few of us have adequate amounts in our diets. Calcium is important for bone health and for many other bodily functions. Unlike vitamin D, the degree of calcium stores in your body cannot be measured with a blood test. Your body will maintain your blood calcium levels at all costs, even if it means leaching it out of your bones. Most adults need about 1200 mg of calcium daily.

The ideal thing to do is to get your daily 1200 mg per day of calcium through diet. Many foods contain calcium to varying degrees, especially dairy products. Eight ounces of milk gives you about 300 mg of calcium.  There are calcium-fortified milks (frequently the lactose-free ones) which provide 500 mg of calcium in one 8 ounce glass. All the major supermarkets carry these, and both Giant and Safeway have their own brands and carry the Lactaid brand as well. Just be sure it has the extra calcium label on the front. They all come in regular, low fat, and skim varieties. 

Even if you have high cholesterol, low fat or fat-free dairy products are permissible. Low fat cheeses (Swiss, mozzarella, cheddar, etc) have about 200 mg of calcium per ounce. Cottage cheese has relatively little calcium (½ cup 70 mg calcium), whereas part-skim Ricotta cheese has the most (1/2 cup 337 mg).  Frozen yogurt has much more calcium than ice cream (1/2 cup=250 mg for yogurt, versus 88 mg for ice cream).  Who can stop at ½ cup of frozen yogurt anyway? (Note: sprinkles, hot fudge, and M&Ms do not contribute calcium.)

Vegetables such as broccoli, kale, mustard, collard or turnip greens all have calcium (300 mg for 1-1 ½ cups). High-oxalate greens such as spinach and Swiss chard reduce calcium absorption, making these foods poor sources of calcium. Low oxalate greens such as bok choy, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, collard greens and kale, besides calcium-set tofu, are good sources of calcium that are relatively easy to absorb. Sesame seeds, almonds and dried beans have some calcium, but it’s more difficult for your body to absorb them.

See website, a wonderful new nutrition site covering soup to nuts!

See the American Dietetic Association’s website and click on “Nutrition Fact Sheet: Debunking Dairy Food Myths3” for an interesting discussion of eating dairy foods.