CalciYUM! May is Osteoporosis Prevention Month

by Kari Hartel, RD, LD
Program Coordinator, Cooking Matters, Operation Food Search

What better time to talk about the importance of adequate calcium and vitamin D intake than during Osteoporosis Prevention Month! Perhaps your parents told you to drink your milk when you were growing up, and rightfully so. Milk is an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D, two nutrients that are vital for building and maintaining strong bones, as well as muscle and nerve tissue. Lesser-known functions of calcium include helping you maintain a normal blood pressure, fight off infection and maintain a healthy body weight.

Are You Getting Enough Calcium?

You may wonder if you get enough calcium from your diet. Recommendations are as follows:

Adults aged 19 to 50 years need 1,000 mg
of calcium per day
Adults over 50 years need 1,200 mg
of calcium per day
Children ages 9 to 18 years need 1,300 mg
of calcium per day

What If You Can’t Have Dairy Products?

Some people are plagued by lactose intolerance and may limit or avoid all dairy products as a result. It’s important to note, however, that having lactose intolerance does not necessarily mean you have to avoid dairy product altogether. There are varying degrees of lactose intolerance, but it’s important to get the nutrients you need. Here are some tips:

Eat small amounts of dairy and increase this amount over time to learn how your body responds to different amounts. Drink 1/2-cup servings of milk several times per day rather than an entire cup at one time. Eat dairy foods with other foods instead of alone.

Choose cheeses that are low in lactose, such as hard cheeses.

Opt for lactose-free or lactose-reduced versions of your favorite foods.
Try yogurt, which has beneficial bacteria called probiotics that may help ease symptoms associated with lactose-intolerance.

Non-Dairy Sources of Calcium

While most of us know that dairy is an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D, many may not be aware that there are many non-dairy sources of these nutrients as well. Below are some nondairy sources of calcium:

Calcium-fortified soymilk
or calcium-fortified orange juice
Salmon or sardines with bones, shrimp
Calcium-fortified dry cereal
Collards, spinach, kale and other greens
Tofu with calcium

And as always, check with your physician before taking any dietary supplements, including those with calcium.
Note: April’s article titled “Earth Day & Nutrition” was written by a dietetic intern with Veteran’s Affairs named Jayne Meyer.