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PUBLISHED: 5:50 PM on Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Dancing skeletons need calcium
Halloween is here! Dancing skeletons crafted out of paper, glue, and scissors tell us to beware of goblins. Maybe that's not a bad image for us when we're talking about nutrition. We make our body's skeleton daily, not with paper and glue, but with our food choices. Our choices determine whether we will have a strong skeleton or one that is weak from lack of nutrients.

Since a Halloween skeleton may be the only one most of us see, it's hard to imagine how dynamic our real skeleton is. Just as our skin sheds old cells and makes new ones, our body builds and rebuilds a part of our skeleton's 200-plus bones every day. Each bone needs several doses of calcium-rich foods daily. Giving your body the calcium it needs is by far the most important thing you can do to build and maintain a healthy skeleton through the years.

What does it take to make a good skeleton? The answer is: Lots of calcium. By meeting the daily required intake of calcium, chronic diseases such as osteoporosis are reduced. Yet calcium also helps prevent high blood pressure and colon cancer. It is needed for our blood to clot, for our muscles to contract, and even for our hearts to beat.


Courtesy photo
  It takes lots of calcium to make up a good skeleton. By meeting the daily required intake of calcium, chronic diseases such as osteoporosis are reduced. Yet calcium also helps prevent high blood pressure and colon cancer. It is needed for our blood to clot, for our muscles to contract, and even for our hearts to beat.
The National Academy of Science recommends more calcium than most of us get. The daily recommendations of calcium differ with age groups:

• Children 1- 3 years of age need 500mg

• Children 4-8 years of age need 800mg

• Children 9-18 years of age need 1,300mg

• People between the ages of 19-50 need 1,000mg

• People 51 and older need 1,200mg

Adult women need three to four daily servings from the milk, cheese and yogurt food group. The recommended daily calcium intake can be obtained by having one cup of yogurt, two cups of skim milk, and 1.5 ounces of low-fat cheese.

Dairy products are the best sources for calcium. Many foods other than milk products contain calcium, but not in the amount needed to meet your body's calcium needs. For example, to get the 300mg of calcium in an eight-ounce glass of skim milk, it would take five cups of cooked beans or six cups of almonds.

For those concerned with the fat content associated with milk products, there are many ways to get the calcium without the fat. Skim and 1 percent milk are good choices, as are low-fat yogurts. In addition to milk and yogurt, there are many other lower fat calcium-rich foods including calcium-fortified foods. For instance, calcium-fortified orange juice contains as much calcium as milk.

Supplements are one alternative to getting the required daily calcium intake; however, experts recommend that you eat food first. Food is superior to supplements because it contains many nutrients that contribute to a healthy body. Good food choices for calcium include the dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, collards, turnip greens, mustard greens, and broccoli. And, in Alaska, don't forget the small bones of canned salmon. If you are thinking of adding a supplement to your diet, check with your medical practitioner or registered dietitian to talk over your options.


  Dr. Sonja Koukel
Now, get to work making your skeleton strong. One that will keep you dancing for many Halloweens to come!

Dr. Sonja Koukel is the Juneau District Agent for the Home Economics Programs of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service. This article was adaptedfrom Montana State Extension.


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