Calcium

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Nutrient Library: Calcium

Calcium:

  • What does it do?
  • How much do you need?
  • What are the best food sources?
  • What happens if you don't get enough?
  • What happens if you get too much?

What does it do?
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. So it's no surprise that it has many important functions. Calcium's primary role is to build strong bones and teeth. Calcium helps muscles contract, nerves transmit signals, blood clot and blood vessels contract and expand. These functions are so important that your body will extract calcium from your skeleton if you aren't getting enough from your diet.

How much do you need?
The following table lists the recommended intake for healthy people based on current scientific information.

Life Stage Group Recommended Dietary Allowance/Adequate Intake
(see note below)
Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL)
Infants
0-6 mo.
7-12 mo.
(milligrams/day)
210*
270*
(milligrams/day)
Not determinable for infants due to lack of data on adverse effects in this age group and concern about inability to handle excess amounts. Source should be from food only to prevent high levels of intake.
Children
1-3 yr.
4-8 yr.
500*
800*
2,500
2,500
Males
9-13 yr.
14-18 yr.
19-30 yr.
31-50 yr.
51-70 yr.
> 70 yr.
1,300*
1,300*
1,000*
1,000*
1,200*
1,200*
2,500
2,500
2,500
2,500
2,500
2,500
Females
9-13 yr.
14-18 yr.
19-30 yr.
31-50 yr.
51-70 yr.
> 70 yr.
1,300*
1,300*
1,000*
1,000*
1,200*
1,200*
2,500
2,500
2,500
2,500
2,500
2,500
Pregnancy
< 18 yr.
19-30 yr.
31-50 yr.
1,300*
1,000*
1,000*
2,500
2,500
2,500
Lactation
< 18 yr.
19-30 yr.
31-50 yr.
1,300*
1,000*
1,000*
2,500
2,500
2,500


NOTE: The table is adapted from the Dietary Reference Intakes reports. Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs), when available, are in bold type; Adequate Intakes (AIs) are followed by an asterisk(*). RDAs and AIs may both be used as goals for individual intake. RDAs are set to meet the needs of almost all individuals (97 to 98 percent) in a group. For healthy breastfed infants, the AI is the mean intake. The AI for other life stage and gender groups is believed to cover the needs of all individuals in the group, but lack of data means the percentage of individuals covered by this intake cannot be specified with confidence.

UL = The maximum level of daily nutrient intake that is likely to pose no risk of adverse effects. Unless otherwise specified, the UL represents total intake from food, water and supplements.

What are the best food sources?
Milk, cheese, yogurt, calcium-set tofu (tofu prepared with calcium salts; check the label), kale and broccoli are all good sources. If you are worried about the fat content in dairy foods, choose low-fat and fat-free versions, which are usually no different in their calcium content.

You may have heard that calcium from vegetables is not as available to your body as calcium from dairy sources. This is true to some extent. Calcium is poorly absorbed from some vegetables and beans, such as spinach, sweet potatoes, rhubarb, red beans and pinto beans. For example, just one-tenth of the calcium from spinach is absorbed compared to that from milk sources. However, just as much calcium is absorbed from vegetables in the kale family (broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, mustard greens) as from milk sources. While this is good news, keep in mind that some vegetables contain more calcium per gram than others. For example, you would have to consume much greater amounts of broccoli to get the same amount you might get from kale.

Healthy Recipes and Menus for Bone Health

What happens if you don't get enough?
Chronically low intakes of calcium can contribute to the development of osteoporosis, a condition of increased bone fragility that can up your risk for bone fracture. In the United States each year, 1.5 million fractures are associated with osteoporosis.

Growing individuals (infants, children and adolescents) who do not get enough calcium will be unable to achieve optimal levels of bone mass, thus putting them at increased risk for osteoporosis as they age.

You may be wondering, are there any signs of calcium deficiency before someone develops osteoporosis? Unfortunately, one of the reasons that osteoporosis sneaks up on you is because simple dietary deficiency produces no obvious symptoms.

What happens if you get too much?
Excessively high intakes of calcium from supplements have been shown to cause kidney stones and poor kidney function. High levels of calcium can also prevent your body from absorbing other minerals properly, such as iron, phosphorus and zinc.

Recipes

Creamy Scallop & Pea Fettuccine
This rich pasta dish is full of sweet seared scallops and plump peas. Low-fat milk and flour thicken the sauce, giving it creamy texture without the extra calories and fat found in traditional cream sauces. Serve with a small Caesar salad on the side.

Makes 5 servings, about 1 1/2 cups each

ACTIVE TIME: 40 minutes
TOTAL TIME: 40 minutes
EASE OF PREPARATION: Easy

  • 8 ounces whole-wheat fettuccine
  • 1 pound large dry sea scallops (see Note)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 8-ounce bottle clam juice (see Tip)
  • 1 cup low-fat milk
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 3 cups frozen peas, thawed
  • 3/4 cup finely shredded Romano cheese, divided
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh chives
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook fettuccine until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes or according to package instructions. Drain.

2. Meanwhile, pat scallops dry and sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon salt. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the scallops and cook until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

3. Add clam juice to the pan. Whisk milk, flour, white pepper and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Whisk the milk mixture into the clam juice. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring constantly. Continue stirring until thickened, 1 to 2 minutes. Return the scallops and any accumulated juices to the pan along with peas and return to a simmer. Stir in the fettuccine, 1/2 cup Romano cheese, chives, lemon zest and juice until combined. Serve with the remaining cheese sprinkled on top.

NUTRITION INFORMATION: Per serving: 399 calories; 7 g fat (3 g sat, 3 g mono); 38 mg cholesterol; 54 g carbohydrate; 31 g protein; 9 g fiber; 618 mg sodium; 492 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Vitamin A (45% daily value), Vitamin C (35% dv), Magnesium (28% dv), Calcium (25% dv). 3 Carbohydrate Servings. Exchanges: 3 starch, 1 vegetable, 3 lean meat

Note: Be sure to buy "dry" sea scallops (scallops that have not been treated with sodium tripolyphosphate, or STP). Scallops that have been treated with STP ("wet" scallops) have been subjected to a chemical bath and are not only mushy and less flavorful, but will not brown properly.

Tip: Some bottled clam juices are very high in sodium, so salt the recipe accordingly. We like the Bar Harbor brand (120 mg sodium per 2-ounce serving). Look for it in the canned-fish section or the seafood department of your supermarket.

Healthy Recipes and Menus for Bone Health

Spring Onion Soup
This easy version of French onion soup is rich with layers of flavor from sweet onions, spring onions, garlic and chives. For most, this classic soup has been relegated to restaurant-only fare-broiling a cheese crust over soup in earthenware crocks can seem intimidating. We've made it user-friendly: just top toasted bread with cheese and pour on the hot soup to melt it. The added chickpeas make it hearty enough for a main course.

Makes 6 servings, 1 1/2 cups each

ACTIVE TIME: 45 minutes
TOTAL TIME: 45 minutes
EASE OF PREPARATION: Easy

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large sweet onions, sliced (see Kitchen Tip)
  • 2 cups chopped spring onions or leeks, whites and light green parts only
  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/4 cup sherry
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 3 14-ounce cans reduced-sodium beef broth
  • 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh chives or scallions
  • 6 slices whole-wheat country bread
  • 1 cup shredded Gruyère or fontina cheese

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add sweet onions and stir to coat. Cover, reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until softened and starting to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Add spring onions (or leeks), garlic and thyme and cook, uncovered, stirring often, until starting to soften, 3 to 4 minutes.

2. Stir in sherry and pepper; increase heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring often, until most of the liquid has evaporated, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in broth and chickpeas and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in chives (or scallions).

3. Meanwhile, toast bread and divide it among 6 bowls; top with cheese. Ladle the soup over the bread and cheese and serve immediately.

NUTRITION INFORMATION: Per serving: 374 calories; 10 g fat (4 g sat, 4 g mono); 20 mg cholesterol; 48 g carbohydrate; 18 g protein; 6 g fiber; 591 mg sodium; 555 mg potassium.

Nutrition bonus: Calcium, Folate & Vitamin C (25% daily value).

3 Carbohydrate Servings

Exchanges: 2 starch, 2 vegetable, 1 medium-fat meat, 1/2 fat

Kitchen Tip: Onions contain a volatile compound called lachrymator that reacts with the fluid in your eyes and makes them water. To chop them without crying, try wearing goggles, burning a candle nearby or cutting them under cold water. To mellow the bite of a raw onion, soak it for an hour in 1 cup cold water, 1/4 cup vinegar and 1/2 teaspoon salt and then rinse thoroughly.

Healthy Soup Recipes and Cooking Tips

Chicken & Sun-Dried Tomato Orzo


Sun-dried tomatoes and Romano cheese pack a flavorful punch along with the tantalizing aroma of fresh marjoram in this rustic Italian-inspired dish. Serve with sautéed fresh spinach or steamed broccolini.

Makes 4 servings

ACTIVE TIME: 30 minutes
TOTAL TIME: 30 minutes
EASE OF PREPARATION: Easy

  • 8 ounces orzo, preferably whole-wheat
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed), divided
  • 1 plum tomato, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 3 teaspoons chopped fresh marjoram, divided
  • 1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed (1-1 1/4 pounds)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 9-ounce package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
  • 1/2 cup finely shredded Romano cheese, divided

1. Cook orzo in a large saucepan of boiling water until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes or according to package directions. Drain and rinse.

2. Meanwhile, place 1 cup water, 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, plum tomato, garlic, 2 teaspoons marjoram, vinegar and 2 teaspoons oil in a blender. Blend until just a few chunks remain.

3. Season chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook, adjusting the heat as necessary to prevent burning, until golden outside and no longer pink in the middle, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate; tent with foil to keep warm.

4. Pour the tomato sauce into the pan and bring to a boil. Measure out 1/2 cup sauce to a small bowl. Add the remaining 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes to the pan along with the orzo, artichoke hearts and 6 tablespoons cheese. Cook, stirring, until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Divide among 4 plates.

5. Slice the chicken. Top each portion of pasta with sliced chicken, 2 tablespoons of the reserved tomato sauce and a sprinkling of the remaining cheese and marjoram.

NUTRITION INFORMATION: Per serving: 457 calories; 12 g fat (3 g sat, 6 g mono); 68 mg cholesterol; 54 g carbohydrate; 36 g protein; 10 g fiber; 372 mg sodium; 546 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Folate (34% daily value), Iron (25% dv), Potassium (16% dv), Calcium & Vitamin C (15% dv). 3 Carbohydrate Servings. Exchanges: 3 starch, 1 vegetable, 3 lean meat, 1/2 fat.

More Healthy Chicken Recipes

From www.eatingwell.com with permission. © 2008 Eating Well Inc.

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