High calcium foods better than pills


October 23, 1990|By Colleen Pierre, R.D.

Calcium supplementation reduced bone loss in post-menopausal women, a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated.

But before you rush to the pharmacy to restock your pill supply, read on.

Significant outcomes of the study were:

*Adequate calcium intake did retard bone loss in some women who were six or more years past menopause.

*Only women with very low calcium intakes were helped by supplementation.

The current Recommended Dietary Allowance for calcium for women over 25 years old is 800 mg per day.

Women in this study were divided into two groups. In the "very low" group were 112 women who consumed less than 400 mg of dietary calcium per day at the start of the study. A portion of this group, whose diets were then supplemented with 500 mg of calcium per day, bringing them close to the RDA, suffered no bone loss in the two years of the study.

The "adequate" group, consisting of 124 women, consumed 400 mg to 650 mg of dietary calcium per day at the beginning of the study. Whether they received additional supplements or not, they suffered no bone loss at hip or wrist during the two years of the study.

What seemed significant to me is that supplementation did not make any difference if dietary calcium intake was close to the RDA. It also seemed important that the group studied reflected statistics from national surveys showing only 25 percent of women consume the 800 mg per day RDA for calcium.

So why don't we just pop pills?

Cradled in the security of your daily calcium supplement, you could still eat a diet too high in fat, too high in sodium, too high in refined sugar, too low in fiber, and inadequate in vitamins and minerals to support other aspects of good health.

High calcium foods, on the other hand, come packaged in nutrient combinations that just can't be duplicated in a pill.

An 8-ounce glass of skim milk, for instance, provides 302 mg of calcium for only 86 calories. Along with your calcium you get lactose and vitamin D, both necessary for calcium absorption; vitamin A, needed for night vision, healthy skin and prevention of some cancers; a full range of B vitamins needed for energy production, metabolism of proteins, fats and carbohydrates, and eye, nerve and skin health. You also get all these benefits from 8 ounces of yogurt (watch the calories from added sugar) and low-fat cheese.

Four slices of whole wheat bread will provide 240 mg of calcium for only 280 calories, along with natural fiber to improve bowel function, and small amounts of a wide variety of vitamins and minerals not found in highly refined junk food.

One cup of broccoli will provide 90 mg of calcium, and 1 cup of kale will offer 175 mg of calcium. Each will also provide generous amounts of vitamin C and beta carotene, along with plenty of fiber for bowel function and cholesterol lowering.

High calcium foods are a great way to maintain bone strength later in life, when calorie needs are declining, and every bite needs to be a nutritional powerhouse.

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center in Baltimore and national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

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