Nutrition Tip January 1 2011
Everything You’ve Ever Needed to Know About Calcium:
Calcium is a mineral that has gotten a lot of media attention in the last 10 years. Not only is it important for muscle contraction and strong bones, it plays a role in fat loss and storage.
When meal planning, aim to get adequate calcium. If you take a multivitamin, you will likely get ~200 mg elemental calcium from it. So, you need to get the remainder from other sources. To get adequate calcium:
- Increase the amount of nonfat milk and yogurt you eat as snacks and with meals (8 oz. milk or fat-free yogurt add 7-8 grams of protein)
- Try soy and rice milk and yogurt if dairy products are not desirable
- Eat cottage cheese with non-fat yogurt as a snack
- Eat tofu (make sure it is processed with calcium sulfate)
- Eat calcium-rich vegetables with meals
- Eat small servings (½ cup) of fat-free frozen yogurt with at least 250 mg of calcium for an occasional treat instead of conventional ice-cream
- Making smoothies with yogurt, milk, ice, and frozen fruit
- Monitor your calcium intake and use supplements if needed
If you still find it difficult to get enough calcium from whole foods, you may want to consider supplementing your diet. If choosing a supplement, first look for “USP” on the label which means it meets the US Pharmacopeia’s standards for dose and dissolution. Secondly, look at the elemental milligrams of calcium, not the total amount. The elemental amount is the amount available for absorption by your body. Thirdly, be sure to look at the serving size on the label. One brand may have 300 mg elemental calcium in 1 pill while another requires 3 pills for the same amount of calcium!
- Calcium Citrate. Example Brand Names: Citracal, Solgar. Calcium Citrate is the best absorbed form of supplemental calcium because it does not require extra stomach acid to be absorbed (it can be taken on an empty stomach). Calcium Citrate sources often have lower elemental amounts of calcium than other forms, though, so it often takes more pills to get enough.
- Calcium Carbonate. Example Brand Names: Tums, Caltrate: Calcium Carbonate is the most commonly used form of calcium in supplements. It does require higher amounts of acid to be absorbed, so it should be taken after meals. The antacid effect of Tums does not seem to decrease absorption when taken after meals.
- Dolomite, Bone Meal or Oyster Shell. These calcium sources are naturally occurring. Be cautious…they may contain heavy metal or lead. Since calcium supplements are not tested for lead content, it’s best to avoid it.
- Calcium Gluconate and Calcium Lactate: Pills from these sources of calcium contain low amounts of elemental calcium. If you take them, make sure to look at this amount and take the appropriate amount of pills.
- Coral Calcium. Although there are many, many health claims for coral calcium, it is simply calcium carbonate. Don’t believe the hype!
When supplementing, do not exceed 2,500 mg total calcium/day, and don’t supplement more than 500 mg at one time for optimal absorption. Lastly, take supplements with meals as stomach acid is needed for digestion (calcium antacids do not counter this effect).