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 Diet & Nutrition

August 2010
Wholesome Calcium
Dr.Priyanka Rohatgi
Calcium is an essential mineral that your body needs every day. It plays a number of important roles in the body and if deficient, can cause numerous health issues. Building and maintaining good bone health through adequate calcium intake throughout life is linked to a reduced risk of osteoporosis by optimising bone mass.

One might be faced with a number of questions regarding the importance of calcium intake. If you find yourself asking the following questions, read on to see what the right way is.

At what age is calcium intake important?
Very simply, at all ages. Calcium is important to infant development, childhood development when bones are growing, during childbearing and during adulthood to keep bones healthy and strong.

Can’t I get enough calcium from my diet?
Infant formulas and some baby foods are rich in calcium as is mother's milk, so babies and infants probably get enough. Once off of those sources, getting enough calcium becomes more difficult. It is generally recognised by the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine, that from ages four through adulthood, calcium dietary intakes optimum for good health range from 800 mg daily to 1200 mg daily. To get that from the diet requires an individual to get two to three servings of dairy products per day, plus several servings of protein, vegetables, grains and fruits. This is difficult for many people. Many individuals are sensitive to dairy products, casein, lactose, or other dairy proteins. These individuals find it very challenging to obtain enough dietary calcium.

What affects calcium absorption from my diet?
Fibre-rich foods and plant foods containing phytic acid can negatively affect the absorption of calcium as can caffeine. Excess fat, salt and soft drinks also have a negative effect.

Studies also show that when too much calcium is in the body at once, absorption is diminished.

What kind of calcium supplements should I take?
There are many excellent calcium supplements available in the market. Calcium carbonate and calcium citrate are the most popular sources with calcium carbonate being by far the most abundant. Calcium carbonate is best absorbed when taken with food. Individuals with achlorhydria condition seem to absorb calcium citrate better, though the difference is minimised when calcium carbonate is taken with food.

What other quality issues do I need to be concerned about, when choosing calcium supplements?
Look carefully at the label of the calcium supplement you are contemplating buying. The requirements for calcium intake are referring to elemental calcium. Your supplement should be supplying the total amount of the mineral calcium, not an amount of the calcium salt. For example, a supplement should be supplying 600 mg of elemental calcium, not 600 mg of calcium carbonate. If a supplement supplied 600 mg of calcium carbonate, it would only be providing 216 mg of elemental calcium. If in doubt, call the manufacturer. Calcium is too important to come up short.

Natural calcium sources for those allergic to dairy products Although it is widely known that milk is a good source of calcium, it is not the only source. People suffering from dairy related allergies can choose one of the following for their natural source of calcium.
  • Soya milk & Tofu
  • Spinach
  • Turnip Greens
  • Figs
  • Oats
  • Sesame seeds

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