From the time children first become aware of choosing what they eat, they learn that milk builds strong bones and helps them grow. But milk itself is not the most important intake. It is actually calcium. Calcium, found in higher concentrations in dairy products, is necessary for humans. Yet while most people know they need it, few understand why. What does calcium do? And what is really the best way to get it?
What is calcium and what does it do?
Calcium is the mineral found most often in the body. It is in the blood, the muscles, and most prominently in bones and teeth. More than 99% of the body’s calcium is stored in the bones and teeth, giving them their hard structure and providing lasting strength and density. In addition, calcium is used to transmitting neuro impulses, regulating the secretion of enzymes and hormones, and aiding blood vessel expansion and muscle contraction.
Why do I need calcium?
Calcium is a necessary nutrient to ensure strong bones and a healthy body. For example, in a person’s early years, bones grow by taking in and depositing more calcium than they use up. Taking in calcium helps increase bone density (lessening the risk of fracture) and increase bone size (thus the thought that drinking milk, rich in calcium, helps a person to grow). In a person’s later years, particularly in post-menopausal women, the bones have a more difficult time absorbing the calcium and bone density tends to decrease. Continually taking in calcium, through foods or supplements, can help to avoid this bone deterioration.
What is the best way to get calcium?
Calcium is available in many foods, and it is also found as a standalone dietary supplement, either on its own or as part of a multi-vitamin. In foods, calcium is most common in dairy products, including milk, cheese, yogurt, and butter. Some vegetables, such as kale, broccoli, and Chinese cabbage are also sources of calcium, as are sardines. In addition, some fruit juices and cereals are “calcium-fortified,” meaning calcium has been added. Calcium is usually added with vitamin D in order to aid in absorption into the body. Calcium is best taken in combination with other sources, which is one reason it absorbs better from food than large supplement doses. However, any source of calcium is a good source of calcium.
Source: “Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Calcium.” National Institutes of Health. http://dietary-supplements.info.nih.gov/factsheets/calcium.asp. Accessed 2 March 2010.