Calcium-Why is it Important

Dairy Products and Calcium

Carolyn Classick-Kohn,MS,RD

Why is Calcium so important?

Calcium is needed for good teeth and strong bones and for the proper function of nerves, muscles, kidneys, and the heart. Not having enough calcium in the diet is one of many factors associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis, a disease that speeds up the process of the natural loss of calcium in the bones. This causes the bones to become weak and fragile, leading to loss of height, curved spines, and bone fractures, especially in women. In recent years, the recommended amount of calcium has been increased from 800 mg to 1000 to 1200 mg per day. Dairy products are the most common source of calcium for people in western industrialized countries. But, as you know, most of the dairy products most commonly eaten are very high in saturated fat and cholesterol, as well as calories! This is not a good trade-off - increasing your risk of heart disease and weight gain by eating dairy products high in saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories in order to decrease your risk or osteoporosis by getting the calcium they contain! So, how can you get enough calcium and still follow your weight loss plan?

Do You Get Enough Calcium?

The answer is no, you will not be getting enough calcium just from foods if you are following a reduced calorie plan to lose weight. If you are trying to lose weight, your diet plan contains less food than you need right now, which means it’s a lot harder to get all the calcium you need. In order to get enough calcium from just the foods you eat, you should eat 3-4 servings of high calcium foods every day. To get enough calcium from medium sources, you need to eat more servings, about 3 servings of medium calcium foods equal one high calcium serving. (In other words, to get the amount of calcium in 1 cup of skim milk, you need to eat 3 cups of broccoli!) Most of you have a plan that contains 2-3 servings of dairy products. This is why I recommend that you take a calcium supplement if you are following a reduced calorie plan. In fact, most adults, especially women, would benefit from taking a calcium supplement whether they are following a reduced calorie diet plan or not. This is because the average person doesn’t eat an optimal diet to begin with! In fact, when you follow your eating guidelines, they are designed to help you get the best combination of nutrients with the right amount of calories for weight loss. Even so, it would be very hard to get enough calcium just from eating food during weight loss.

A Matter of Age

The amount of bone you build during teen and young adult years is called peak bone mass. This is the strongest your bones will ever be, and that is why getting enough calcium while you are growing is so important. After your early 20’s, you do not build bone mass, so the goal is keep your bones healthy the remainder of your life by doing a few simple things:

Eat enough calcium from low fat sources, or supplement

Strengthen your bones through regular exercise

Avoid unhealthy, low calorie diet plans

If you are a post-menopausal woman, discuss 
estrogen replacement with your doctor

Avoid smoking, and if you do smoke, quit!