Most people think their bones are like pieces of wood: a strong material that gives your body structure the same way that wood frames a house. But, did you know that your bones are living tissues and they continue to change throughout your life?
During childhood and adolescence, bones increase in size and strength and continue to add more mass until peak bone mass is reached. Although this was believed to occur around age 30, up to 90 percent of peak bone mass is actually acquired by age 18 in girls and age 20 in boys, which makes these early years a critical time for bone building. That’s why it’s so important to get enough calcium and vitamin D throughout infancy, childhood, and adolescence, to help delay or avoid bone loss as you age.
How to Get Enough Calcium & Vitamin D
So where can you find calcium and vitamin D and how much do you should you shoot for? Here’s a quick bone-building class:
Calcium is the major component of bones and is one of the most important dietary defenses against the crippling bone disease osteoporosis. The Nutrition Facts Panel (NFP) on your food label will provide the information you’ll need to determine how much calcium is in the packaged food you eat. This information can be found on the section labeled, "Percent Daily Value" (% DV).
The % DV for calcium is 1000 mgs. per day, although some of us may need to take in more than that level, depending on your age and such factors as whether you're pregnant or lactating. For instance, if the calcium recommendation for your age grouping is 1,200 mg of calcium, your daily goal should be 120% of the calcium DV.
Get the Best Boost for Your Bones with High-Calcium Foods
Remember that the amount that’s listed on the label tells you how much calcium is provided in one serving of that particular food. As an example, if a cup of skim milk supplies around 300 mgs. of calcium per serving, the number listed on the NFP will read 30% DV for calcium (300/1,000 – 30%.) This serving size (listed towards the top of the panel) may not be the amount you actually consume; it’s based upon the amount suggested by the manufacturer. Therefore, using the above example, if you only use a 1/2 cup of milk in your breakfast cereal, you’re getting only 15% of the calcium you need for that day, which is 1/2 of the % DV listed on the label.
It’s important, as it is with all nutrients, to keep track of your calcium intake by adding up these daily values to create a more valuable diet for yourself and your family. You can also benefit by reading labels, if you comparison shop: try to choose foods that have high % DV’s to get the best boost for your bones.
Vitamin D and calcium form the ideal partnership. Vitamin D helps enhances the absorption of calcium. Your body can make vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight and you can obtain vitamin D from food. Aside from bone health, vitamin D has also been linked to boosting immune function and decreasing inflammation which respectively are role players in reducing the risks of cancer and heart disease. Very few foods in nature contain vitamin D, but you can find it in the flesh of fish of fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel), and fish liver oils. Foods fortified with vitamin D provide most of this important nutrient in our diet, particularly in milk (100 IU/cup of vitamin D, equivalent to 25% of the Daily Value.) The percent DV for vitamin D is based on 400 IU vitamin D.
Consume 3 Servings of Calcium-rich Foods Each Day
Getting enough calcium could be as easy as 1-2-3, by making sure you consume 3 servings of calcium-rich foods each day. One serving is equivalent to: 1 cup of milk, 1 1/2 ounces of hard cheese, 1 cup of yogurt, 1 cup of broccoli, or 1 serving of canned salmon with bones.
Sadly, in our country, we are experiencing a calcium crisis. Our children are sorely lacking the calcium they need to build their bones and adults are missing this essential mineral to help keep their bones strong and prevent fractures. And if you are religious – you could be at an even greater risk of not getting the minerals you need and here’s why: many of us wait from 4 to 6 hours after eating meat to eat dairy. That means that if you had some meat with your lunch and dinner, the chance of getting dairy in your diet once breakfast is over is slim. Moreover, many of us cover our bodies in warmer weather, shielding our skin from the sun, decreasing vitamin D production. The solution is to try to make the most of your intake of dairy earlier on in the day and perhaps use calcium fortified soy milk and other related products throughout the rest of your day.
And last but not least, although there are many supplements and medications on the market today to help strengthen your bones, these are meant to be taken in concert with an adequate calcium/vitamin D intake: they are not a substitute, just an assistant.