You probably know that calcium is important for healthy bones and that it’s found in dairy products, especially milk.
But what else do you know about this essential nutrient?
For example, were you aware that calcium is the most abundant stored nutrient in the human body? But that only one percent of that calcium is found in our blood? The other 99 percent is stored in our teeth and bones. What we eat or drink has little impact on serum calcium levels because our body transfers calcium from other sources, such as bones, to our blood is needed.
But that one percent performs a vital function to our health. In addition to keeping our bones strong, it affects how well our blood vessels, muscles, nervous system and hormones function, playing a critical role in blood clotting and heart health. It also affects how well our cells communicate.
Did you know that only 30 percent — on average — of the calcium we take in through what we eat gets absorbed by our bodies? Or that the recommended daily requirement for this nutrient is 1,000 mg for adults and 1,200 mg for women over the age of 50? The amount rises to 1,200 mg for men at age 71.
Best Sources of Calcium
Though the calcium in our diet won’t change our serum calcium levels, it does affect how much we’re able to store in other parts of our bodies, so it’s important that we get enough. Calcium is found in dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese and vegetables such as broccoli, kale, watercress, okra and bok choy. Sardines, anchovies, almonds and soy are also high in calcium. Finally, it is also found in calcium-fortified foods — such as some cereals, orange juice and bread.
Vitamin D and Other Nutrients
Vitamin D is also needed to help our bodies absorb calcium. Our bodies can make vitamin D when sunlight reaches our skin, and it is found in foods such as egg yolks, fatty fish, cheese, liver and fortified milk. Using sunblock or avoiding the sun’s UV rays to reduce the risk of sunburn and skin cancers may mean that you should consult your provider about testing for deficiencies or using supplements.
Calcium and vitamin D aren’t the only two players needed to maintain a healthy calcium balance and good bone health. This also requires the help of protein and phosphorus (found in meats, poultry, fish, nuts, beans and dairy products).
All four of these nutrients act together to keep our bones strong and healthy and prevent falls and fractures.
Roughly 1.5 million fractures occur annually in the U.S. in those over age 60. Research shows a deficiency in any of these nutrients can increase the risk of fractures and falls, especially in the elderly. That’s why it’s important to eat a well-balanced diet rather than focus on one or two food groups.
You may wish to consult your healthcare provider or a nutritionist for advice on how to ensure that you’re getting the proper amount of each of these critical nutrients as you get older.