Calcium for life - are you on the right track?
Calcium: An Important Part of a Healthy Lifestyle
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and is
found mostly in your bones, where it gives them strength. The body
does not produce calcium, which means that you must get it from your
daily diet. That's why a diet rich in calcium is so important,
particularly when bones are growing and developing. Even after full
bone development, you still need an adequate calcium intake
throughout your life to keep your bones strong and healthy.
Calcium-rich bone: A calcium-rich diet contributes to the
"density" of bone tissue, ensuring a strong and healthy skeleton.
Calcium-deficient bone: A calcium-poor diet in one factor
that can make bones less dense and, as a result, weak and brittle.
This information is for people like you, who want to take a more
active role in understanding their health, specifically the role
that calcium plays in their body, the foods that contain it, and how
much they need at different stages of life.
If they think about it at all, many people believe they consume
enough calcium when in fact they don't. Find out now whether or not
you get it from the best sources. Keep reading on about calcium to
help you and your family make calcium-rich choices more often.
CALCIUM: Good for Bones and More
Why is calcium so important?
Apart from giving strength to your bones, calcium is necessary
for many body functions. Practically every cell in your body,
including those in your heart, nerves and muscles, relies on calcium
to function properly.
In order for your body to function properly, the level of calcium
in the blood must stay relatively constant. For this to happen, you
need to consume enough calcium throughout the day - otherwise, you
blood will "steal" calcium from your bones to maintain the level it
requires. Think of your bones as a "bank". If your diet is low in
calcium, your blood "withdraws" the calcium it needs from your
bones. When you diet is rich in calcium, you make "deposits" in your
calcium "bank". Over time, if your withdrawals exceed your deposits,
your bones can begin to weaken and become more susceptible to
One in Four Women Will Suffer From Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by calcium-depleted
bones that are so porous and fragile they can easily break - even a
simple hug can fracture the bone of someone afflicted with
osteoporosis. 75% of individuals who fracture a bone due to
osteoporosis will suffer deformities and permanent disabilities
which greatly decrease their quality of life. Osteoporosis affects
one in four women and one in eight men over the age of 50.
As we age, we all lose bone mass. Whether or not you get
osteoporosis later in life depends on how big and dense your bones
become during your developing years, and how much bone mass you lose
after that. If you start off with bigger and denser bones and if you
lose less bone mass as you get older, you will have more left in
How Calcium Helps Your Body
- Bones: Calcium is required to build, develop and maintain
strong and healthy bones.
- Heart: Calcium maintains normal heartbeat and regulates blood
pressure. It may play a part in reducing your risk of high blood
- Blood: Calcium is important for normal blood clotting, which
is essential for wound healing.
- Colon: Calcium may offer protection from colon cancer in some
- Nerves: Calcium is needed for proper functioning of the
- Muscles: Calcium is required for muscle contraction and
relaxation, which make movement possible.
Building Healthy Bones - A Program for Life
Starting off on the right foot...
Prevention is the best approach to osteoporosis and prevention is
a lifetime process; however, it's never too late to start taking
care of your bones. While your genetic make-up plays a major role in
determining the size and density of your bones, your lifestyle is
also important. Regular physical activity and a diet rich in calcium
are the best preventive measures. Of course, there's no guarantee
that an adequate calcium intake will absolutely prevent
osteoporosis. If your calcium needs are not met, though, your risk
of getting osteoporosis is definitely increased. Also, smoking and
too much alcohol and caffeine have a negative impact on bone health,
especially if your calcium intake is low.
Provided you consume enough calcium, your bones will continue to
grow more dense until around the age of 30. After that, calcium
remains a priority, because you need to maintain your bone mass to
minimize the gradual loss associated with aging. Pregnant and
breastfeeding mothers need even more calcium to meet both their
needs and the baby's. In women, loss of bone mass is accelerated
after menopause. Postmenopausal women should therefore pay even
greater attention to their calcium intake.
All Calcium Sources are Not Created Equal
To benefit from the calcium in your diet, your body must be able
to absorb and use it. In general, the calcium in fruits, vegetables,
nuts and legumes is not adequately absorbed by the body - it is not
highly "bio-available". The reason is that most of these foods
naturally contain substances like oxalate, phytate and fibre that
bind calcium and interfere with its absorption. For example, almost
all the calcium in spinach and rhubarb is bound to oxalate and
cannot be used by the body.
In addition, most plant-based foods contain only small amounts of
calcium. These foods are otherwise nutritious and can contribute to
your overall calcium intake, but it's not a good idea to rely solely
on them for your complete calcium needs.
The Osteoporosis Society of Canada recommends that you try to
meet your calcium needs first through foods, especially milk
products, which are the richest source of easy-to-absorb calcium.
What is important to remember is that calcium-containing foods
also offer other nutrients. For example, milk products supply
vitamin A, phosphorous and magnesium, which also contribute to bone
health. Milk itself is our best dietary source of vitamin D, which
helps the body absorb calcium better. If, for some reason, you can't
meet your recommended daily calcium intake naturally with food,
calcium supplements are a must.
Active Living: It's the Way to Go!
In combination with a calcium-rich diet, your bones need regular
physical activity to maintain their strength. Exercise helps the
body store calcium in the bones, so that the calcium you get from
your diet is used more efficiently. Activities you do on your feet,
like brisk walking, skating, dancing, hiking and low impact aerobics
are ideal. Walk to the store instead of driving. Take the stairs
instead of the elevator. Every bit counts. Find activities that you
enjoy and make active living a pleasurable part of your everyday
Calculate Your Calcium Intake
Click here to assess your calcium intake
with the Calcium CalculatorTM*
Every Step Counts...
Calcium Content of Milk Products
Click here for a calcium content list of milk products and some combination foods
made with milk products
You're On The Right Track...With Calcium-Rich Foods
Milk products are the most practical way to meet your calcium
needs. In fact, although it can be done, it is a real challenge to
meet your daily calcium needs without milk products. As you can see
from the food tables, not many foods are as rich in easy-to-absorb
calcium as milk products. Canned sardines and salmon are also great
sources of readily-available calcium as long as you eat the bones.
At home or dining out, at meal-time and for snacking, make
calcium\rich milk products an important part of your day, every
On Your Way...With the right number of servings
Eating the recommended servings of milk products as outlined in
Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating is your best guarantee of
getting the calcium you need every day, along with other important
nutrients. How many milk products you should eat depend on where you
are in the life cycle.
Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating Recommended daily servings
of milk products
- Children 4 - 9 years 2 - 3 servings/day
- Youth 10 - 16 years 3 - 4 servings/day
- Adults 2 - 4 servings/day
- Pregnant and breast-feeding women 3 - 4 servings/day
What's a serving?
One serving of milk products, as defined in Canada's Food Guide
to Healthy Eating, contains at least 275mg of calcium. Not all milk
products contain the same amount of calcium. That's why a normal
helping of some milk products might give you only 1/4, 1/3 or 1/2
serving as shown below.
1 serving =
250mL(1 cup) milk
50g (1"x1"x 3") firm cheese
2 slices processed cheese
175g (3/4 cup) yogurt
45mL (3 tbsp) Parmesan cheese
1/2 serving =
- 175mL (3/4) cup) ice cream
- 125mL (1/2 cup) frozen yogurt of ice milk
1/3 serving =
1/4 serving =
Note: If you think you have lactose intolerance, which means you
have difficulty digesting the lactose or natural sugar in milk,
confirm this with your doctor. This condition is not an allergy, and
does not mean that you should give up milk products. Experiment to
find out your own tolerance:
- try drinking smaller amounts of milk with food throughout the
day, or drink lactose reduced milk (available at most grocery
- try yogurt - the bacterial culture makes it easier to digest.
- try eating firm cheese like Cheddar and Mozzarella, since they
contain almost no lactose.
Dairy Bureau of Canada (1994)
* Calcium Calculator™
courtesy of B.C. Dairy Foundation
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