Calcium supplements: Why you should think twice before you take them

Calcium supplements: Why you should think twice before you take them

It wasn’t that long ago when getting your calcium was a no-brainer. You simply popped a couple of tablets each day and went about your business. But then last spring we were told that German-Swiss researchers found that taking calcium supplements may increase heart attack risk by a whopping 86 percent.

This news was especially perplexing to the ten million Americans—eight million women and two million men, who have osteoporosis and 34 million who are at risk for the disease.

U.S doctors aren’t convinced the study is conclusive, but they’re not totally dismissing it either.

Until there is clarity regarding the safety of supplements, several local bone specialists revealed that they’re advising patients to either cut down on their usage of supplements or cut them out altogether, recommending they meet more or all of their calcium needs by eating calcium-rich foods.

The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommendation is similar: advocating that people get their daily calcium with food sources first but consulting with your physician before discontinuing usage of calcium supplements.

Adults should consume between 1000-1200 milligrams of calcium a day. But boosting your calcium intake through food alone isn’t as simple as it sounds.

Dairy products seem like the obvious to-go calcium choice. And while the idea of having a license to max-out on pizza and ice cream sounds like a dream come true, a diet high in saturated fat comes with the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Bottom line: If you eat dairy, stick mainly with nonfat or lower fat products such as nonfat milk—299 milligrams per cup and plain, nonfat yogurt—452 milligrams per cup.

If you’re not fond of dairy foods or are lactose intolerant, getting enough calcium is even more of a challenge. Still, you can get a significant amount of the mineral by chowing down on nondairy foods. First, though, you have to improve your calcium IQ, which does take a little effort.

Fresh fruits and vegetables don’t come with product labels. And most packaged food products such as canned beans or peanut butter don’t list calcium content by milligrams—but by percentages.

For example, the label on a can of baby lima beans says it provides six percent of one’s daily requirement for calcium. That information is pretty useless when you’re adding up your daily calcium intake in milligrams.

But with a little research, you can find out which foods are good sources of calcium. One of them, we learned, is canned salmon—with the edible bones in it. A three-ounce serving has 183 milligrams. A one-half cup serving of firm tofu has 204 milligrams if it’s processed with calcium. Be sure and check the label.

And your mother was right—even more than she knew—when she told you to eat your green vegetables. Cooked collard greens are a calcium gold mine—with 226 milligrams per cup.  Turnip, dandelion and mustard greens are also calcium-dense.

Simple adjustments in your diet can make a big difference in your calcium count. Take nuts. Almonds have 75 milligrams of calcium per ounce while walnuts have just 28.

Same with beans. Canned white beans have three times as much calcium as canned red kidney beans: 191 milligrams per cup versus 61.   Then there’s fruit. An orange contains 52 milligrams and an apple only 8.

And what about those super-fortified food products which are crammed with added calcium? Total Whole Grain cereal, for example, has 1000 milligrams of calcium per ¾ cup?

Dr. Stuart Sprague, D.O., Chief of the Division of Nephrology and Hypertension at NorthShore University HealthSystem, an expert in metabolic bone diseases and osteoporosis, warned in an email that “it’s better to have your calcium spread over the course of the day, not all at once, as there is a saturation point with calcium absorption.”

Plus, when it comes to calcium, you may want to choose kale over spinach because the later is high in oxelates, which block calcium absorption.

Confusing, I know. But with a little creativity and few strokes on your computer keyboard or iPhone, you’ll find there are ways to get your calcium for breakfast, lunch, dinner and even snacks.  Below is an incredibly easy, scrumptious recipe which will help you reach your daily calcium requirement.



1 cup of dry, old-fashioned oatmeal
1 cup plain, nonfat yogurt
2 cups skim milk
4 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate (save the rest in the freezer for another use)
1 ½ cups cut up fresh fruit cut (such as peach, grapes, strawberries, blueberries or banana)
4 tablespoons flax seed
4 tablespoons toasted almonds, chopped

Place all ingredients in bowl except nuts, mix together slightly, cover and store in refrigerator eight hours or overnight. Remove from refrigerator and stir well. Place in bowls. Sprinkle reach bowl with nuts upon serving.


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