Bone Up on Calcium

Most of us mentally connect the growing years with the need for calcium. That's true, but "boning up" is actually a lifelong process—starting at the moment of conception. During the childhood and teen years, bones grow long and wide. In fact, 40 percent or more of the body's bone mass is formed during adolescence. By age twenty or so, that phase of bone building is complete. But the period ofbuilding toward peak bone mass continues until the early thirties. Bones become stronger and more dense as more calcium becomes part of the bone matrix.

Your bones are in a constant state of change. Because bones are living tissue, calcium gets deposited and withdrawn daily from your skeleton, much like money in a bank, in a process called remodeling. As small amounts are withdrawn, they're used for other body functions; at the same time, calcium is deposited in bones. To keep your bones strong and to


8 oz. milk (any type) 8 oz. yogurt 3V2 oz. sardines V2 cup ricotta cheese 10 oz. milkshake 2 slices processed cheese 8 oz. calcium-fortified orange juice* 8 oz. calcium-fortified soy beverage**

1 oz. hard cheese V3 cup grated cheese

1 cup black-eyed peas

2 tbsp. blackstrap molasses

3 oz. canned salmon with bones

1 cup frozen yogurt 1 cup cottage cheese 1 cup baked beans 1 cup cooked broccoli, kale, or bok choy reduce bone loss, you need to make regular calcium deposits to replace the losses—and even build up a little "savings account" of calcium for when your food choices come up short.

Calcium doesn't work alone. It works in partnership with other nutrients, including phosphorus and vitamin D. Vitamin D helps absorb and deposit calcium in bones and teeth, making them stronger. Phosphorus also is an important part of bone structure. There's another way the body can absorb calcium

Calcium Quality

Points Score

Calcium Quality

Points Score

1 cup cooked greens (mustard, dandelion, beet) _ 1 _

1 cup cooked soybeans _ 1 _

1 cup cooked acorn squash or butternut squash _ 1 _

1 cup tofu (treated with calcium sulfate) _ 1 _

1 packet instant oatmeal _ 1 _

V2 cup softserve vanilla ice milk _ 1 _

V2 cup chocolate, vanilla, tapioca, or rice pudding _ 1 _

1 slice medium cheese pizza _ 1 _

1 medium cheeseburger _ 1 _

Total calcium score _

x 100

Approximate milligrams of calcium _

*Fortified at about 500 milligrams calcium per 8 ounces **See page 265 for calcium equivalencies for calcium-fortified soy beverages

Your Nutrition Checkup

Yesterday . . . Did You Consume Enough Calcium?


No. of Quality No. of

Servings Points Score Food Servings x 3 = 3 3 3 3

Source: Adapted from C. Pierre, Calcium in Your Life, American Dietetic Association's Nutrition Now Series (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1997). This material is used by permission of John Wiley & Sons.

without vitamin D; however, that mechanism requires even more calcium intake!

If you don't consume enough calcium—or if your body doesn't adequately absorb it (perhaps because you're short on vitamin D)—your body may withdraw more calcium from bones than you deposit. You need calcium, for example, for muscle contraction and your heartbeat, too. This process gradually depletes bone, leaving a void where calcium otherwise would be deposited, eventually making bones more porous and fragile. See "Which Bone Is Healthy?" in chapter 22 to compare healthy and osteoporotic bone.

After age thirty or so, bones slowly lose minerals that give them strength. That's a natural part of aging. Whatever calcium a woman has "banked" in her skeleton will be the amount in her bones when she enters menopause. Even then, consuming enough calcium can help women retain their bone density and lower the risk for osteoporosis later.

During the childbearing years, the hormone estrogen appears to protect bones, keeping them strong. But with the onset of menopause, bone loss speeds up for women as estrogen levels go down. If women achieve their peak bone mass as younger adults, their risk for osteoporosis, or brittle bone disease, later in life is reduced. Their bones are strong enough before menopause to offer protection.

For older adults (ages fifty-one and over), calcium remains important for bone health as well as for protection from high blood pressure and cancer. It's not too late to get the benefits from consuming more calcium, even if you're starting now.

An adequate calcium intake is one important factor in building healthy bones. Adequate exercise is another. Regular, weight-bearing physical activities such as walking, strength-training, dancing, kick-boxing, and tennis stimulate bone formation. These types of activities trigger nerve impulses that, in turn, activate body chemicals to deposit calcium in bones.

Women—and men, too: You can build bone until about age thirty. After that, you can only slow the bone loss that comes with aging. Follow these tips:

  • Consume adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D—at every age and stage of life!
  • Be careful with weight loss; eating plans that severely restrict food often restrict calcium. If you're concerned about calories or fat, choose fat-free or low-fat milk for bone building.
  • Participate regularly—at least three times weekly—in weight-bearing activities.
  • Avoid smoking and an excessive intake of alcoholic drinks; both interfere with bone health.

For more about calcium during the bone-building adolescent years, see "Calcium: A Growing Issue" in chapter 16. For other factors that relate to osteoporosis, see "Osteoporosis: Reduce the Risks" in chapter 22.

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