Calcium: No Emergency

YOU’VE SEEN THE ADS—CELEBRITIES like pop star Britney Spears, home-run king Mark McGwire, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, film director Spike Lee, and television’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, each sporting a gleaming white milk mustache. They are supposed to be making you aware of the dangers of not getting enough calcium in your diet while urging you to drink three glasses of milk a day to combat our country’s “calcium emergency.” I hope you can resist the genial, folksy allure of this slick but misleading campaign, sponsored by the National Dairy Council. For starters, there isn’t a calcium emergency.

In this article from the Food Properties section, we take a look at all the necessary information about this topic. Stay with 4teenweightloss .

When it comes to calcium in the diet, the United States is near the top of the list of average calcium intake per person, second only to some Scandinavian countries and parts of Latin America (where calcium is used to make tortillas). More important, while there’s no question that calcium is an essential part of a healthy diet, there are other major questions. Some of the most important include the following:
• How much calcium do we really need each day? It depends on whom you ask. In the United States, the official currently recommended intakes are 1,000 mg/day from ages nineteen to fifty and 1,200 mg/day after that. In the United Kingdom, everyone over age nineteen is urged to get 700 mg/day. The World Health Organization says 400–500 mg of calcium a day are needed to prevent osteoporosis. In Canada, the target for adults is 1,000 mg/day up to age fifty and then 1,500 mg/day after that.


Why the differences? Different types of studies yield different answers about how much calcium people need, so reliance on one type rather than another leads to the range of recommendations. The kinds of studies used to set the current daily calcium requirements have some serious flaws. What’s more, there’s no good evidence that merely increasing the amount of milk in your diet will protect you from breaking a hip or wrist or crushing a backbone in later years.
• How much calcium or milk is safe? Nutrition experts have long assumed that calcium is a lot like vitamin C—your body merely excretes what it can’t use. But it’s beginning to look as though too much calcium might be a bad thing. For men, a high calcium intake seems to increase the odds of developing fatal prostate cancer. For women, drinking a lot of milk has been linked with higher rates of ovarian cancer. In both cases the evidence isn’t conclusive, but it is enough to sound a warning about possible negative effects of getting too much calcium and drinking too much milk.


• Is milk, or are dairy products in general, the best source of calcium? Milk is clearly a highly efficient way to get calcium from food, since it delivers almost 300 mg per eight-ounce glass. (See table, page 160.) But milk delivers more than just calcium, and some of its other components
—like extra calories, saturated fat, and the sugar known as galactose—aren’t necessarily good for you. What’s more, as many as fifty million adults in the United States can’t completely digest the milk sugar known as lactose. Nor can most of the world’s population.
The main reason for all the concern about too little calcium is the frightful prospect of osteoporosis, the gradual and insidious loss of bone that often comes with old age. In the United States alone, osteoporosis affects ten million women and men. Each year osteoporosis leads to more than 1.5 million fractures, including 300,000 broken hips. Breaking a hip in old age can be disabling, even deadly—almost one-quarter of older people who break a hip die in the following year, often from complications caused by their injury.

learn more: You Are What You Drink

Unfortunately, there’s little evidence that just boosting your calcium intake to the high levels that are currently recommended will prevent fractures. And all the high- profile attention given to calcium is distracting us from strategies that really work—like exercise, getting enough vitamin D, avoiding too much vitamin A, and taking certain medications.

Calcium: No Emergency

As I will describe in the next few pages, dairy products shouldn’t occupy a prominent place in our diet, nor should they be the centerpiece of the national strategy to prevent osteoporosis. Instead, the evidence shows that dietary calcium should come from a variety of sources and, if more calcium is really needed, from cheap, no-calorie, easy-to- take supplements. Then you can look at dairy products as an optional part of a healthy diet and take them in moderation, if at all.


Your body contains roughly two pounds of calcium, about 99 percent of which is locked into bone. Think of calcium as the mortar that cements and solidifies the components that give bone its substance and strength. The rest is dissolved in your blood and the fluid inside and outside cells. That dissolved calcium helps conduct nerve impulses, regulates your heartbeat, and controls other cell functions.


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