How I Increased My Calcium Intake
Why I Need More Calcium in My Diet
My father had osteoporosis for several years before his death in 2001. My 83 year old mother also has it.
My mom is a tiny person with a large bulge on her upper back. She has of course, shrunk in stature over the past 10 years. She's broken her wrist and had compression fractures in her spine. She took oral medication and nasal inhalers to control pain and increase her calcium intake, but the advance of the disease has continued. Now she takes annual Reclast injections.
My doctor warned me years ago, that I am at high risk for osteoporosis as well. I have a slender build, a family history, I'm white, and female. Now as I approach menopause, my concerns turn to myself and how I can thwart what seems to be inevitable. I've decided to do what I can to increase my calcium, Vitamin D, maintain my activity level, and lift some weights to control what I can.
The Good News First
While I needed to increase my calcium intake, that certainly isn't the only factor that influences my bone health. The good news is that I do have a few things on my side and, if they aren't on yours, you can change them if you want.
I don't smoke or drink alcohol (except on rare occasion).
I seldom consume caffeine; either soft drinks or coffee which can reduce calcium absorption.
I have a good level of physical activity, including weight bearing. I walk, hike, or bicycle regularly. Daily in fact. I'm planning on adding some simple weight lifting to my morning activities as well.
My sugar intake is reasonable.
Some Important Things I Learned About Calcium Absorption
I've known for many years that some foods are higher in calcium of course. Dairy products like yogurt, milk, and cheese, salmon, and vegetables like kale and broccoli.
I also knew that supplements were a good idea, especially if you are particularly at risk, have dietary restrictions that make getting enough calcium difficult, take steroids, and so forth.
I was aware that Vitamin D plays an important role in allowing your body to absorb calcium.
But there were a few details I didn't learn until I recently searched further:
- Calcium citrate is more readily absorbed than calcium ascorbate and calcium carbonate. The latter are absorbed adequately when taken with a meal however. So it matters which is in your supplement and when you take it.
- Vitamin D isn't the only other vitamin critical in the absorption of calcium. Vitamin C, E, K, magnesium and boron also help in this process.
- Your body can not absorb all the calcium in needs in a single dose. It's best to spread out your consumption over the course of the day.
- Some foods block the calcium you get from other foods.
According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation and other sources here are some of the common offenders.
- Beans (legumes), due to their high phylates block calcium but soaking them does help to reduce this.
- Salty foods cause the body to loose calcium. So avoiding processed and canned foods might be wise.
- High oxalate foods such as chocolate, spinach, beet greens, and rhubarb
- Wheat Bran and other insoluble fiber. (high phylates) So it's best to consume it 2 hours or more before or after calcium
- Caffeine (soft drinks and coffee)
- Protein. My research on the topic didn't indicate that protein blocks calcium, but that due to the increased sulfates in your body from the protein more calcium is excreted.
How I'm Trying to Increase My Calcium Intake
Obviously, the best nutritional defense against osteoporosis starts in your early years. When your bones are forming, having a calcium rich diet and getting enough weight bearing exercise helps your bones to develop in to strong ones.
Maintaining this throughout your lifetime is also important. How much calcium your body needs to build and maintain strong bones varies with age and so forth. However, in my case as a woman who will soon be post menopausal, I've found that I need a minimum of 1,200mg of calcium per day.
Certainly, anyone with concerns about osteoporosis should consult with their physician and discuss their diet, perhaps receive a bone scan to check the condition of their bones, and then discuss any supplements if necessary. It can be important not to take in too much Vitamin D or calcium, so physican approval can be critical although exceeding the allowable amount would require you to consume more than twice the recommended level. I'll be having my physician consultation in a few months, but for the past several years, I've been planning ahead.
I began taking a calcium supplement when I turned 40 years old. I don't personally like the idea of taking pills and I'm not convinced that it's the best form of calcium or any other mineral or vitamin. However, as a precaution, I began taking one 600mg pill (with Vitamin D) per day and hope that it's being absorbed.
Now that I'm a bit older I take a multi-vitamin specially formulated for older women that provides the Calcium, vitamin D, Vitamin K and other necessary vitamins and minerals.
I also made some adjustments in my diet to try to get more calcium via the foods I'm eating as I feel this is the best way to assure the calcium is properly absorbed and used by my body. I found that there are a number of foods I enjoy which are rich in calcium. I try to eat a minimum of three of these a day.
These calcium rich foods include:
- A cup of milk
- A cup of yogurt
- A cup of cottage cheese
- An ounce and a half of cheese (parmesan, Edam, cheddar, or mozzarella are good choices)
- A small can of salmon with bones
- A serving of broccoli
- A handful of sesame seeds (on a salad or alone)
- A handful of almonds
- Green leafy vegetables (not spinach)
- Calcium and Vitamin D enriched bread, juices, cereals, etc.
These are spaced out over the course of the day. I have milk (6-8 ounces) with my breakfast. I have my own tactic I use is to double the calcium I get from the milk I drink.
- I learned that the non-fat powdered milk gave me nearly 30% of the calcium I needed for the day.
- Although I dislike skim milk I found out it has lower fat and calories than whole milk but even more calcium so I began combining it with the powdered milk (rather than using water) which made it richer and more acceptable to me. This doubled the calcium I was getting in a single serving.
Then at lunch time, I have a salad with kale or other greens with sesame seeds or almonds on it.
I use the cheese or small yogurt as a snack (cheese with some apple or yogurt with some berries or pineapple).
I take my vitamin supplement later in the afternoon so that it's between meals and long after I've had my milk. Typically I have a few tiny carrots and hummus or sliced peppers with some dip at the same time.
I usually include either salmon or broccoli in some form at dinner at least every other day.
- Increasing Dietary Calcium | Cleveland Clinic
Learn about dietary calcium values from Cleveland Clinic. Read about ways to boost calcium intake.
- Osteoporosis Diet & Nutrition: Foods for Bone Health
Learn about osteoporosis nutrition and nutrition guidelines.
- The calcium myth - Better Bones