Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, yet nearly 90% of Americans do not get enough calcium in their daily diet. Everyone needs calcium no matter what their age or gender. It is necessary for strong bones throughout life and other functions for a healthy body. But is your family eating enough calcium?
Why We All Need Calcium
Calcium is necessary for everyone at every age. Children from infancy to their teen years need calcium to build strong bones, teeth and muscles as they grow. Adults need calcium to maintain healthy bones and teeth. Pregnant women need calcium to maintain their own bones as well as for the skeletal development of the baby. Older adults are in need of calcium to prevent osteoporosis, a condition that causes bones to become weak and fracture.
Calcium is also beneficial for other parts of the body. Calcium is necessary for muscle contraction, healthy blood vessels, transmitting impulses in the nervous system and for the secretion of enzymes and hormones.
Dangers of a Low Calcium Diet
When children and adults do not get enough calcium in their diet they risk losing the calcium that is stored in their bones and teeth. When calcium blood levels become low, it pulls the calcium from the bones. Ideally, the calcium will be replaced at a later date. But if a person’s diet is consistently low in calcium, the bones eventually become fragile. Young children who do not get enough calcium can acquire a disease called rickets, a bone-softening disease that can cause poor growth, bowing of the legs and muscle pain and weakness.
In adults, a diet consistently low in calcium can cause osteoporosis. According to the Harvard School of Public Health 10 million Americans have osteoporosis and over 34 million are at risk of developing the disease. While osteoporosis is prevalent in women, men are also afflicted by this disease. Nearly 8 million women and 2 million men have osteoporosis. Women are especially vulnerable to this bone disease after the age of 50 or after they have gone through menopause.
A low calcium diet can also affect the health of the teeth and gums as well as cause muscle spasms and weakness and problems with the nervous system.
The Recommended Amount of Daily Calcium
It is always best to get your daily amount of calcium through a healthy, balanced diet. The Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) suggests the following amounts of calcium per day:
Age 0-6 months – 210 milligrams
Age 7-12 months – 270 milligrams
Age 1-3 years – 500 milligrams
Age 4-8 years – 800 milligrams
Age 9-18 years – 1,300 milligrams
Age 19-50 years – 1,000 milligrams
Age 50 year and up – 1,200 milligrams
Vitamin D is also essential in order for the body to absorb calcium properly. The Harvard School of Public Health recommends adults have between 400 and 1,000 International Units (IUs) of vitamin D each day. Children under age 18 should have 400 IUs of vitamin D daily. Many dairy products and breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamin D along with calcium. The body can make its own vitamin D when the skin is exposed to the sun for 15 to 30 minutes a day.
People who are not on a restricted or vegetarian diet should easily be able to get enough daily calcium through the foods they eat. If you or a family member is lactose intolerant or if you choose to be on a dairy-free diet, calcium can still be found in many non-dairy foods. Examples of foods that are rich in calcium include:
• Whole or low-fat milk
• Soy milk
• Rice milk
• Cottage Cheese
• Green leaf lettuce
• Fortified breakfast cereals
• Fortified orange juice
• Ice Cream
What about Calcium Supplements?
Calcium supplements may be necessary if you are unable to get enough calcium through the diet. Supplementation may also be an option for pregnant, nursing and postmenopausal women who need additional calcium. However, people should never take a calcium supplement unless advised by a doctor to do so. Too much calcium from supplementation can cause dangerous side-effects and some studies have shown that calcium supplements may put postmenopausal women at a higher risk of heart attack or stroke.
Calcium is an essential mineral and is necessary for all members of the family no matter what their age. By eating plenty of calcium-rich foods, your family should be able to consume enough of this vital mineral for a healthy body.
Harvard School of Public Health “Calcium and Milk: What’s Best for Your Bones and Health?”
Office of Dietary Supplements “Calcium: Health Professional Fact Sheet”