See "Calcium: A Closer Look" later in this chapter. What it does:

  • Builds bones, in both length and strength, becoming part of bone tissue.
  • Helps your bones remain strong by slowing the rate of bone loss as you age.
  • Helps your muscles contract and your heart beat.
  • Plays a role in normal nerve function.
  • Helps your blood clot if you're bleeding.

If you don't get enough: For children, not getting enough calcium may interfere with growth; a severe deficiency may keep children from reaching their potential adult height. Even a mild deficiency over a lifetime can affect bone density and bone loss, increasing the risk for osteoporosis, or brittle bone disease. See "Bone Up on Calcium" later in this chapter.

If you consume excess amounts: Unless the doses are very large (more than 2,500 milligrams daily), adverse effects for adults are unlikely. Very large doses over a prolonged time may cause kidney stones and poor kidney function, and may affect the absorption of other minerals such as iron, magnesium, and zinc. Regular consumption of milk and milk products won't result in excessive amounts of calcium. The Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) from the Dietary Reference Intakes is set at 2,500 milligrams daily from age one through adulthood.

How much you need: For ages nine through eighteen, the Adequate Intake (AI) is 1,300 milligrams daily. As an adult through age fifty, the AI is 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily. After that, the recommendation goes back up, to 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily for both men and women to help maintain bone mass. Calcium recommendations for women who are pregnant or breast-feeding are the same as for other women in their respective age group.

To reduce the risks of osteoporosis, many nutrition experts believe that even more calcium is better for your bones. The National Osteoporosis Foundation advises at least 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily, and vitamin D each day, along with regular physical activity (weight-bearing, resistance training).

Where it's mostly found: Milk and other dairy foods such as yogurt and most cheeses are the best sources of calcium. In addition, some dark-green leafy vegetables (kale, broccoli, bok choy), fish with edible bones, calcium-fortified soy beverage, and tofu made with calcium sulfate also supply significant amounts. There's also juice, bottled water, and bread that may be calcium fortified. See "Counting Up Calcium" later in this chapter for a list of good sources and amounts.

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