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Few Americans Meet Their Calcium Needs
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Although never thought of as an adult beverage, one drink Americans of all ages need to consume more of is milk.
Dr. Barbara McLaurin, Mississippi State University extension nutrition specialist, said most Americans need more calcium than they are getting. Dairy products, such as milk, cheese and yogurt, provide 75 percent of the calcium in the U.S. food supply.
"One of the most important reasons bodies need calcium is to build strong bones," McLaurin said. "If not enough calcium is deposited into bones as a young person, that person can develop osteoporosis, or brittle bone disease."
Until age 30, calcium can be added to bones to make them stronger. However, no more calcium is deposited after this age.
"After age 30, a person can't improve their bone system, only prevent additional calcium from leaving," McLaurin said.
To grow and sustain healthy bones, people ages 9 and older should get 1,000 to 1,300 milligrams of calcium a day. Children less than 9 years old need varying amounts of calcium up to 800 milligrams a day.
In recent years, half the American children ages 2 to 10 are not meeting the average daily goal of two or more servings of dairy products. Just one-fifth of Americans over age 11 are eating the recommended amounts of dairy products.
A diet lacking in calcium can cause serious problems in later years without exhibiting any symptoms previously.
"So often when you hear of an older person falling down and breaking a bone, they actually broke a bone and fell because they have brittle bone disease," McLaurin said.
The best way to get calcium is through dairy products, leafy greens and canned salmon with the bones left in. One cup of plain yogurt has 450 milligrams of calcium, one cup of milk has 300 milligrams and one ounce of cheddar cheese has 205 milligrams of calcium.
"Counting servings of dairy products is the easiest way to tell if you're getting enough calcium," McLaurin said. "If you eat the recommended amounts of dairy products, you won't have to be nearly as conscious of food labels for calcium intake."
While eating dairy products is the ideal way to consume calcium, people who don't eat enough of these have an option in calcium supplements.
Consumers should consult with their physicians before taking calcium supplements, McLaurin said. Individual calcium needs vary and some forms of calcium are more easily absorbed for some people.
Another reason to get sufficient calcium through food is so the body receives other nutrients at the same time.
"Calcium doesn't work alone," McLaurin said. "It works with phosphorus, vitamin D and other nutrients. With these nutrients present, you get better absorbency and better use of the calcium than you would by taking a single nutrient supplement alone."
In addition to proper calcium intake, people should do weight- bearing exercises such as walking, dancing, jogging or gardening. Together, this helps the bones retain their calcium and density.
"Weight-bearing exercises enhance bone strength when you're getting enough calcium," McLaurin said.
Unlike many vitamins and minerals, people rarely have problems from too much calcium. However, calcium supplements taken in wrong doses can potentially interfere with other mineral absorption, result in calcium toxicity, aid the formation of kidney stones and lead to constipation and excess gas.