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You’ve probably heard it time and time again, “Calcium helps build strong bones and teeth!” —and it’s true! But what is calcium and why is it so important?
In addition to macronutrients like carbohydrates, fats and protein, the body needs several minerals. Calcium is an essential mineral that supports bone development and maintenance, blood clotting, and muscle contractions. It’s important to know that while you may be consuming foods high in calcium, this mineral requires a source of vitamin D to help the body absorb it. There is a limit to the amount of calcium we can store in our bones but building proper stores of this mineral can prevent osteoporosis later. We can only store calcium up to a certain age, therefore consuming enough calcium and vitamin D earlier on in life is crucial. Although you store calcium in your bones, peak bone density is reached between ages 18-30 and remains stable until 40-50 years old in women and 60 years old in men. As an essential mineral, it is highly regulated. This means that if you don’t consume enough of this nutrient and your body is in need of calcium, calcium can leach from your bone stores so that the body can use it (remember, calcium is involved with muscle contractions and your heart is one of the major muscles that need calcium to contract and function properly!) However, when calcium leaches from the bones, it weakens them and can lead to osteoporosis. The goal is to consume adequate calcium and vitamin D to build bone mass so that even if you can no longer build bone mass, you can decrease further bone loss and maintain the stores you’ve built.
As you can see, calcium is not only vital for bone health but it also helps our heart, and muscles function properly. Inadequate calcium intake cannot only lead to osteoporosis but also an increased risk of bone fractures later in life. It is recommended that women and men between the ages of 19-70 get between 1000-1200 mg per day of calcium. While that may seem like a lot, it is easier than it looks! Weight bearing exercise can also help build bone mass.
While 3-4 servings of milk or yogurt a day will help you reach that goal, for those of us who are either lactose intolerant or follow a vegetarian and vegan lifestyle; that might not be an option, so here are a few great dairy-free alternatives.
In addition to this, a lot of products such as oatmeal, cereals, and juices are now fortified with calcium to help insure you get the appropriate amount as well!