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Nutrition in a Nutshell #5: What's the Word on Calcium?
by Barbara Hiebert, R.D.

Calcium is entering the limelight as another important nutrient we have neglected. Over the past generation or so Americans switched from drinking milk as a primary beverage to drinking soda. As a consequence calcium levels in the body have dropped, with detrimental results to our health.

What does calcium do for us? Most everyone knows that adequate calcium is needed to build strong bones (in childhood) and to protect bone mass (prevention of osteoporosis in the elderly). But calcium is important in many other ways as well. Studies show that calcium:

-assists in lowering blood pressure
-is needed for the heart, muscles and nerves to function properly
-reduces symptoms of PMS
-may help in prevention of colon cancer

The newest information indicates that low calcium in the blood contributes to obesity. Researchers have discovered that low serum calcium levels cause the body to store fat, and by increasing calcium intake, weight loss efforts are more successful. One researcher placed two groups on a calorie-restricted diet for 12 months. He gave the study group 2 cups of yogurt per day in addition to the food that both groups received. Both groups lost weight, but the study group lost an additional average of 11 pounds over the group that did not receive the yogurt.

So what is the recommendation? The new recommended daily intake for calcium is 1300 mg. per day. The best way to achieve this is by consumption of dairy products. While supplements are helpful, calcium absorption from dairy products is nine times that of the calcium supplements. Here are some good sources:

Yogurt, 8 oz. 400-450 mg.
Swiss cheese, 1 _ oz. 400 mg.
Cheddar cheese, 1 _ oz. 300 mg.
Milk, 1 cup 300 mg.
Canned salmon with bones, 3 oz. 200 mg.

Remember, cheese has a great deal of fat in it as well, so the better sources are milk, yogurt and canned fish with bones. Although some vegetables are high in calcium, such as broccoli, okra and greens, the calcium in these foods is more difficult to absorb.

If you have any specific questions, I would be happy to answer them for you.

Here's my email address: bhiebert@jhmi.edu.

You can also contact me via snail mail:

Barbara Hiebert
Senior Clinical Dietitian
Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center
4940 Eastern Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21224-2780
Attn: Clinical Nutrition