Calcium is an important nutrient and is needed for many of the body’s functions, including blood clotting and the proper functioning of the heart, muscles, and nerves. Calcium is also critical for the health and strength of bones. Old bone is constantly broken down by our bodies, and new bone is deposited. Any time bone is broken down faster than it’s deposited, bone weakness and osteoporosis can occur. This is where calcium plays a role in keeping our bones strong!
Bones are made from proteins and are fortified with calcium. If a person doesn’t take in enough calcium from her/his diet, the body extracts calcium from the bones, resulting in loss of bone strength and mass. The most important thing to know about bone mass is that 90% of our bone mass develops by the time we are 20 years old, with the ability to create bone mass ending at age 30! Therefore it’s crucial for children and adolescents to consume enough calcium each and every day!
We know that dairy products are a good source of calcium but so are fruits and vegetables! Calcium-fortified juice (i.e. orange juice) is considered high in calcium. Spinach, collard greens, soy beans, turnip greens, and cow peas are all good sources of calcium as well. Perhaps even more than the calcium content of these foods, however, is that preliminary research suggests a link between fruit and vegetable intake – regardless of calcium content — and bone mass. Diet influences the body’s acid/base balance. A diet rich in animal proteins results in a more acidic diet, which is then buffered in part with the calcium from bones. On the other hand, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is more basic and helps buffer acids, thereby potentially preserving calcium in bones.
When consuming foods containing calcium remember that your bones absorb calcium most efficiently when vitamin D is present. The good news is that fortified fruit juices and soy milk usually offer calcium and vitamin D together!
Weight-bearing physical activity, such as weight lifting or running, helps contribute to bone mass; bed rest or a sedentary lifestyle does not. Excessive intake of protein (in meat), phosphorus (in soda), sodium, caffeine, and smoking all have a negative impact on bone health and should also be considered if bone health is your goal.
Drink and eat your calcium! Eat your fruits and vegetables! Exercise! Also try to avoid excessive protein (in meat), phosphorus (in soda), sodium, caffeine, and smoking. And while we typically don’t advocate supplements, for some people a calcium supplement (that also contains vitamin D) may be important to meet calcium needs. Learn about other sources of calcium and how exercise can increase your bone mass.