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 85-year-old mother also had it.
My mom was a tiny person with a large bulge on her upper back. Prior to her death, she had shrunk in stature by several inches. She had broken her wrist, some ribs, 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 continued. She later took annual Reclast injections but eventually, she died following a fall that resulted in a spiral fracture of her femur that required months of bedrest.
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 and Vitamin D intake, 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. Now, in recent years I've added some 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 it 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 phytates block calcium but soaking them does help to reduce this.
- Salty foods cause the body to lose 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 phytates) 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 into 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 physician approval can be critical although exceeding the allowable amount would require you to consume more than twice the recommended level.
I began taking a calcium supplement when I turned 40 years old. I'm somewhat wary of taking a lot of supplements as you never know if your body is absorbing what you take or merely excreting it.
However, as an aging woman with a strong family history of osteoporosis, I decided a supplement was the least I could do. I take a multi-vitamin specially formulated for older women that provides the Calcium, vitamin D, Vitamin K and other necessary vitamins and minerals. By taking the multi-vitamin rather than just the calcium supplement I felt that I was making sure I was getting all of the vitamins and minerals necessary to aid in absorption.
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 greek 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 or 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 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 lunchtime, 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