Calcium can pop up in unexpected foods. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times
Updated: November 18, 2012 6:06AM
Getting your daily dose of calcium used to be 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 discovered that taking calcium supplements may increase our risk for heart attack by a whopping 86 percent.
This news was especially perplexing to the 10 million Americans — eight million women and two million men — who have osteoporosis and 34 million who are at risk for the disease and know calcium is vital to their well-being.
U.S physicians aren’t convinced the study is conclusive, but they’re not totally dismissing it, either.
Until there is clarity regarding the safety of calcium supplements, several local bone specialists said that they’re advising patients to either cut down on their usage of supplements or cut them out altogether, counseling people to meet more or all of their calcium needs by eating calcium-rich foods.
The National Osteoporosis Foundation’s recommendation is similar: try to get your daily calcium through food sources first but to consult with your physician before you stop taking calcium supplements.
According to the National Institutes of Health, adults need between 1,000-1,200 milligrams of calcium a day.
But at first, boosting your calcium intake through food alone isn’t as simple as it sounds.
Dairy products seem like the obvious go-to 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 options 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 more of a challenge.
You’ll have to improve your calcium IQ, which does take some effort. Fresh fruits and vegetables don’t come with product labels. And most packaged food products such as canned beans or bread don’t list calcium content by milligrams, but by percentages.
For example, the label on a can of baby butter 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, it is possible to find out which foods are good sources of calcium.
One of them, we learned, is canned pink salmon — with the edible bones in it. A 3-ounce serving has 183 milligrams.
A half-cup serving of firm tofu has 205 milligrams if it’s made 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 266 milligrams per cup. Turnip, dandelion and mustard greens also are 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 almost three times more calcium than canned red kidney beans: 191 milligrams per cup versus 74.
Then there’s fruit. An orange contains 52 milligrams but an apple only 8.
And what about getting your calcium in one shot by gobbling up one of the super-fortified food products that are crammed with added calcium?
For example, Total Whole Grain cereal has 1,000 milligrams of calcium per ¾ cup.
Dr. Stuart Sprague, chief of the Division of Nephrology and Hypertension at NorthShore University HealthSystem, is an expert in osteoporosis and other metabolic bone diseases.
In an email, Sprague said 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 opt for another leafy green vegetable such as kale instead of spinach, says Karen Ansel, registered dietitian and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Why? Because spinach is high in oxalates, which block calcium absorption.
But with a little creativity and some Googling (not to mention at least one high calcium recipe app), you’ll find there are countless delicious ways to get your calcium.
Here are two scrumptious recipes to help get your started.
Judy Marcus is a local free-lance writer.