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