Created on: November 29, 2010
Calcium is usually associated with two things, strong bones and milk. These are completely appropriate associations since the most noticeable function of calcium is in the formation of bones and teeth and the best source of calcium is milk and other dairy products. However, there are many other important functions and food sources of calcium. The vast majority, about 99%, of all calcium is stored in the bones and teeth and it's importance is most profound in the growing years.
The amount of calcium needed by an adult is 1000mg/day, however, teenagers require 1300mg/day to provide for the rapid growth of their bones. The recommended amounts for toddlers is 500mg/day, and children ages 4-10 need about 800mg/day. Requirements for pregnant and lactating women are also higher at 1200mg/day and the elderly should increase their intake to 1500mg/day because as we get older, we absorb a smaller percentage of the calcium found in the food we eat.
While milk and dairy products are by far the largest food sources of calcium, not all dairy products are the same. Certain types of cheeses have significantly less calcium than others, so it is important to read food labels if you are concerned about calcium intake. For individuals who are lactose intolerant, obtaining calcium can be difficult without the use of supplements.
There are some common food sources of calcium that are not dairy products, they include most green vegetables, leafy and dark green ones contain the highest amounts. Unfortunately, many of these vegetables contain other chemicals that actually lower the amount of calcium that is absorbed. Other sources of calcium include nuts, seeds and beans. There are also many non-dairy foods that are fortified with calcium such as cereals, fruit juices and oatmeal.
The most obvious function of calcium is in the growth and maintenance of bones and teeth, but there are other important functions like controlling muscle contractions, dialating blood vessels to regulate blood pressure as well as helping the cells of body communicate with each other via hormones, enzymes and nerve transmitters. The body actually utilizes bones as a storage place for calcium, and when there is not enough calcium present for these other functions, the body will remove calcium from the bones in order to eliminate the deficiency.
There are a few other important points that need to be mentioned regarding calcium in food sources. Calcium is dependent upon the presence of Vitamin D to be absorbed properly in the intestines. Also worth mentioning is that while calcium is extremely important for proper bone health and growth, other minerals also play an important role, these include phosphorus and magnesium, along with strontium. For the prevention of osteoporosis, these other minerals need also be consumed in adequate amounts or the calcium supplementation will be ineffective.
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