Feature Articles: Eating Well
Melissa Bess, Nutrition and Health Specialist, Camden County, University of Missouri Extension
Calcium is a mineral that makes up bones and teeth. Calcium also plays a role in nerve function, muscle and heart contraction, and blood clotting. When too little calcium is consumed in the diet, the body will use calcium stores in the bones to provide calcium for these functions.
A 2004 report by the Surgeon General reported that more than 75 percent of Americans do not consume adequate amounts of calcium. How can you be sure that you and your family are consuming the recommended amount of calcium?
The recommended amount of calcium varies depending on age and gender, but for most people 2-3 servings of dairy products will provide the recommended amount of calcium daily. A serving is equal to 1 cup (8 ounces) of milk or yogurt, 1.5 ounces of natural cheese, and 2 ounces of processed cheese.
Milk, yogurt and cheese are the best dairy sources of calcium. Milk and some yogurts are fortified with vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium. Some soy products, fortified orange juice, leafy greens, broccoli, canned salmon with bones, tofu and legumes also have calcium. Read the nutrition label to find out the amount of calcium in various foods. It is listed on the label as a percentage. Anything over 20% can be considered an excellent source, and anything under 5% is considered to be a lower source of calcium.
When choosing milk, low-fat (1% or ½%) or fat-free (skim) is best. Low-fat and fat-free milk provide the same amount of calcium as higher fat milk (whole or 2%) without the extra fat and calories. Low-fat or fat-free yogurt are also the best choices. Cheeses with less fat are more readily available in stores, but may melt differently or have a different flavor. Experiment with the different cheese and use the lower fat versions that work best in your recipe.
If lactose intolerance is a problem, there are lactose-free varieties of milk, soy-based drinks or other calcium-fortified beverages. Yogurt and cheese can usually be consumed by someone who is lactose intolerant because of the lower lactose content of those foods. If someone has a true milk allergy, they should consult with a doctor for more recommendations.
To increase your family’s consumption of calcium, try using low-fat or fat-free milk in recipes instead of water, enjoy a parfait or smoothie made from yogurt for breakfast or as a snack, use a small amount of cheese on your salad or sandwich, choose milk instead of soda with a meal, make a yogurt-based dip to serve with fruits or vegetables, or try some calcium-fortified foods or beverages as part of your healthy eating habits.
Last update: Wednesday, June 18, 2014