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by Christel Swasey

How Much Calcium Should I Eat Today to be Healthy?

How Much Calcium Should I Eat Today?

We want to live long, healthy lives. We realize that if we follow the recommendations of doctors, nutritionists, the Institute of Medicine and the USDA, we will avoid diseases, hospitalization, and will live longer, healthier lives.

But who reads makes sense of the recommendations of the U.S. Department of Agriculture?  The typical American worker bee, who barely has time to drive through the “drive-thru” on her way home from work, slamming sacks of fast food down on the dining table on her way to the laundry, haircuts, homework, PTA meetings, and everything else?  No way.

But today, I took the time. I’m on brand new quest to learn just how deficient the average family (mine) might be, so I manufactured some willpower and read some of the recommendations of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and of the Institute of Medicine.

I chose to learn about calcium today, because I’ve actually heard of it (unlike most of the other 18 elements listed on the USDA table. What the heck’s valadium?  Or manganese? Or molybdenum?) –And I chose calcium also, I confess, because I am seeking evidence that I need more ice cream in my diet.

I learned that calcium deficiencies are common in the average American diet; in fact, there  is a direct link between the disease osteoporosis and not getting enough calcium (and vitamin D, which helps absorb calcium) as well as not getting enough exercise– which strengthens bones even
in mild amounts.

Osteoporosis actually means “porous bones.” It is a silent, stalker disease. It causes bones to become brittle without ever sending pain-warnings ahead of time like any other respectable disease.  So bones, weakened when an individual has lowered levels of calcium and other minerals over time, experience a mild stress –like a fall or a bad cough, and fracture!

Some important facts to remember about calcium and osteoporosis:

  • Half of women and a quarter of all men will break a bone due to osteoporosis.
  • Vitamin D is absolutely needed to absorb calcium.
  • A body can’t absorb more than 500 mg of calcium at a time, but needs over 1,000 mg. per day.  Translation:  you must spread out calcium intake –and supplements– throughout the day.
  • If you hate milk, that’s okay.  Calcium-fortified orange juice counts.  So do sardines, cheese, and calcium-plus-vitamin-D supplements.
    Get about 300-400 calcium mgs. per meal.  This equals a 2 inch cube of cheese, a cup of milk or a cup of calcium-fortified orange juice at each meal.  And many breakfast cereals–  even the sugary “junk food” cereals, are plentifully fortified with calcium.
  • Best news yet: if you eat four cups of ice cream, you will get about as much calcium as if you drink one cup of milk.
    This is definitely my favorite research finding of the day, despite the fact that with our calcium, we also get a ton of calories and fat.

Yep, we need calcium.  And people don’t realize that they should have been upping their calcium intake until they fracture bones in old age,
when it is very difficult to rebuild the house, so to speak.

Men, women and children over four years of age need at least 1,000 mg. of calcium per day!   Teens need at least 1,300.

So, here’s an easy math moment:  When you read that your milk has 30% of the recommended daily intake of calcium per cup, it means that there are 300 mg. of calcium in that cup of milk.  It makes the math easy– just add a zero to the percentage, and you’ve got your milligram count.

Calcium is a breakfast star, because there’s calcium in milk, fortified orange juice, and fortified cereal. Plan to get a jump on your recommended daily calcium at breakfast time every day.  It’s just harder later, unless you use supplements.

For example:

  • 1 cup of 1% milk  =30%
  • 1 cup of fortified cereal = 10%
  • 1 cup of calcium-fortified orange juice = 35%

That would put you at 75% of your RDA for calcium in a day.  But remember– if you don’t have another glass of milk, or a can of sardines, or a cup of turnip greens for lunch or dinner that day, you will stay in the deficient category, despite that good breakfast.

A cup of raw broccoli or kale has 90 mg.  A cup of turnip greens has 200 mg.  A 3-oz. can of sardines has over 300 mgs.  (But keep in mind, friends: a cup of ice cream has 80 mg!!)

Unless you’re eating tons of calcium-rich foods very regularly, the easiest way to make it to the daily calcium requirement goal is to just add in an extra glass of milk, calcium fortified O.J., calcium-fortified almond milk, or an ounce or two of cheddar to dinner, lunch, or snack time.  Each of these would have about 20-30%, (200- 300 mg., a good chunk of the 1000 mg. you need each day.  Or get bag of those chewable calcium bites
that they sell nowadays at the grocery store.
They taste only slightly worse than tootsie rolls and they’ve got 500 mg. of calcium a pop.

And how much is too much?

Getting too much calcium is very rare, and getting too little is very common, unless you are taking calcium supplements.  If you worry about overdoing it, here’s a tip:  the upper limit, for most people, is around 2,500 mg. per day!  That is a lot.

Most of us won’t be running the risk of too much calcium unless we were to in more than 2,500 mgs. per day –on a regular basis.

That’s so unusual that maybe we really should use it as an excuse to have another scoop of ice cream.

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