Whether You're Six or 60, Get Plenty of Calcium
Whether You're Six or 60, Get Plenty of Calcium

It's pretty obvious why kids and teenagers need calcium. For every inch they grow in height or pound they gain in muscle, their bones are also growing to support it, lengthening and strengthening every year.

Bones, made primarily of calcium and phosphorus, are living, dynamic organs, constantly breaking themselves down and building themselves back up, both to repair small damages and to act as backup for blood calcium, if there isn't enough coming in from the diet. Up to age 30, bones build more than they break down. But after that, the balance tips the other way, and bones build up less, making it important to have plenty of calcium in the diet at every age.

About 99 percent of the calcium in our bodies is stored in our bones. The one percent in our blood regulates our heart beat and helps neurons fire and muscles contract, which is why it's great to have a large calcium reserve in our bones. However, the more calcium that is pulled from the bones, the weaker they will become. This is why it's so important to get plenty of calcium in our diets. Whether you're 6 or 60, eating plenty of calcium is crucial.

Best Sources of Calcium

Dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese are the best sources of calcium. Vitamin D helps our bodies better absorb calcium, so milk, which has vitamin D added, is an especially good source of calcium. Other good sources include fish like sardines or salmon, tofu, fortified orange juice, beans and leafy greens. When preparing leafy greens, add a squeeze of lemon: vitamin C makes calcium from vegetables easier for your body to absorb.

To ensure strong, healthy bones throughout your life, follow these guidelines.

In Grade School and High School:

When you're young, your bones are like a savings account; put as much calcium as possible into your account so you can use it later in life. Bones build more than they break down until about age 30, so now is the time to build. If you're a parent, this is a great time to model good eating habits for your kids. If you drink three glasses of milk a day, chances are they will, too. Serving calcium-rich foods at every meal is also a great way to help them "save up" and have strong bones into the future.

In Your 20s through 40s: Maximize Your Calcium

You're still building bone until about age 30, so use this time to get plenty of calcium each day. In your 40s you want to maintain bone strength before the loss of bone that begins during menopause. Continue to get three servings of milk and dairy foods each day to make sure your bones keep the calcium they have. Exercise, too, keeps bones healthy, so try to get about 120 minutes per week of jogging, walking, aerobics, stair climbing, tennis or other activities you enjoy.

In Your 50s and Beyond: Minimize Your Calcium Losses

Bone strength naturally begins to decline after menopause because of lower estrogen levels. The same process happens to men, only a little slower. Estrogen in women, along with calcium from food and weight-bearing exercise, helps preserve bone mass. Getting plenty of calcium from food can help slow bone loss.

Osteoporosis is the result of calcium being drawn away from bones without being replaced, leaving bones lacey, delicate and prone to breaks.

Food sources of calcium are best, as they provide other important nutrients. Continue to get three servings of milk and milk products each day, along with other foods that offer calcium. Just as in the rest of your life, exercise is a great way to keep bones strong.

Our bones are a pretty important part of our bodies that we tend to take for granted. Even though you never see them, they give you support and structure, so lend them a hand with plenty of calcium throughout your life!

References:

1. Ross A. Modern nutrition in health and disease (11th ed.). 2014. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.  

2. Golden NH, Abrams SA. Optimizing bone health in children and adolescents. Pediatrics. 2014 oct;134(4):e1229-43. 

3. U.S. Department of Agriculture. ChooseMyPlate.gov Website. Washington, DC. Dairy. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/dairy.html. Accessed March 11, 2015.