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Understanding Calcium and Vitamin D

Calcium and vitamin D: Partners for a healthy body
Calcium is a nutrient found in many foods, especially dairy products, and is necessary for proper function of the heart, muscles, nerves and blood, as well as for strong, healthy bones. Vitamin D aids absorption of calcium by the body. Without enough vitamin D to help calcium do its job, the body will take calcium out of the bones, where it’s stored. This can lead to weak, brittle bones and osteoporosis.

What happens if I don’t get enough calcium and vitamin D?
Osteoporosis is the disease most often associated with inadequate calcium and vitamin D intake. Women who have gone through menopause are at a greater risk for osteoporosis because of hormonal changes. In addition, aging skin becomes less able to synthesize vitamin D, a process that occurs when our skin is exposed to sunlight – a major source of vitamin D.

Adequate vitamin D intake may help prevent certain cancers. It also may play a role in the prevention or treatment of diabetes, high blood pressure, glucose intolerance and other conditions.

How much calcium and vitamin D do I need?
Calcium ideally should be taken in small doses of 500 mg or less several times throughout the day. Speak with your primary care physician about your specific calcium and vitamin D needs. In general, these are the daily requirements for calcium:

  • Women up to age 50 need 1,000 mg of calcium per day.
  • Women age 50 and older need 1,200 mg of calcium per day.

Five to 30 minutes of exposure to sun between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. two times a week will give most people all the vitamin D they need. If this is not possible, women should make an effort to get vitamin D through foods or dietary supplements in the following amounts depending on age:

  • Women up to age 50 need 200 IU (5 mcg) of vitamin D per day.
  • Women ages 51-70 need 400 IU (10 mcg) of vitamin D per day.
  • Women ages 71 and older need 600 IU (15 mcg) of vitamin D per day.

Good sources of calcium
Dairy and soy products are the best sources of calcium-rich foods. These include milk, yogurt, cheese, soy beverages and tofu.* Women of all ages should eat 2 to 3 servings of dairy products per day.
A serving is equal to:

1 cup (8 fl.oz.) of milk
8 oz. of yogurt
1.5 oz. of natural cheese (such as cheddar)
2 oz. of processed cheese (such as American)

*Many nonfat and reduced fat dairy products that contain the same amount of calcium as regular dairy products are available for individuals concerned about saturated fat content from regular dairy products.

Calcium-Rich Foods

Food

Calcium (mg)

% DV*

Yogurt, plain, low fat, 8 oz.

415

42%

Yogurt, fruit, low fat, 8 oz.

245-384

25%-38%

Sardines, canned in oil, with bones, 3 oz.

324

32%

Cheddar cheese, 1 ½ oz shredded

306

31%

Milk, non-fat, 8 fl oz.

302

30%

Milk, reduced fat (2% milk fat), no solids, 8 fl oz.

297

30%

Milk, whole (3.25% milk fat), 8 fl oz

291

29%

Milk, buttermilk, 8 fl oz.

285

29%

Milk, lactose reduced, 8 fl oz.**

285-302

29-30%

Mozzarella, part skim 1 ½ oz.

275

28%

Tofu, firm, made w/calcium sulfate, ½ cup***

204

20%

Orange juice, calcium fortified, 6 fl oz.

200-260

20-26%

Salmon, pink, canned, solids with bone, 3 oz.

181

18%

Pudding, chocolate, instant, made w/ 2% milk, ½ cup

153

15%

Cottage cheese, 1% milk fat, 1 cup unpacked

138

14%

Tofu, soft, made w/calcium sulfate, ½ cup***

138

14%

Spinach, cooked, ½ cup

120

12%

Instant breakfast drink, various flavors and brands, powder prepared with water, 8 fl oz.

105-250

10-25%

Frozen yogurt, vanilla, soft serve, ½ cup

103

10%

Ready to eat cereal, calcium fortified, 1 cup

100-1000

10%-100%

Turnip greens, boiled, ½ cup

99

10%

Kale, cooked, 1 cup

94

9%

Kale, raw, 1 cup

90

9%

Ice cream, vanilla, ½ cup

85

8.5%

Soy beverage, calcium fortified, 8 fl oz.

80-500

8-50%

Chinese cabbage, raw, 1 cup

74

7%

Tortilla, corn, ready to bake/fry, 1 medium

42

4%

Tortilla, flour, ready to bake/fry, one 6" diameter

37

4%

Sour cream, reduced fat, cultured, 2 Tbsp

32

3%

Bread, white, 1 oz

31

3%

Broccoli, raw, ½ cup

21

2%

Bread, whole wheat, 1 slice

20

2%

Cheese, cream, regular, 1 Tbsp

12

1%

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


*DV=Daily Value
**Content varies slightly according to fat content; average =300 mg calcium
*** Calcium values are only for tofu processed with a calcium salt. Tofu processed with a non-calcium salt will not contain significant amounts of calcium.

Good sources of vitamin D
Approximately 5 to 30 minutes of sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. at least twice a week usually gives the body enough vitamin D. The ultraviolet rays needed for vitamin D synthesis do not penetrate glass, so sitting indoors near a window is not sufficient. Despite the importance of sun for vitamin D, it’s prudent to limit exposure to sunlight due to risk of developing skin cancer. The best food sources of vitamin D are fish, such as salmon, tuna and mackerel, and fish liver oils. Small amounts of vitamin D also are found in beef liver, cheese and egg yolks. Many foods are fortified with vitamin D, including milk and cereals.

Vitamin D-rich foods Food  
IUs per serving 
Percent daily value
Cod liver oil, 1 tablespoon  
1,360  340
Salmon, cooked, 3.5 oz.       360        90
Mackerel, cooked, 3.5 oz 345        90
Sardines, canned in oil, 1.75 oz.  250    70
Tuna, canned in oil, 3 oz.   200       50
Milk (nonfat, reduced fat or whole) vitamin-fortified, 1 cup 98 25
Cereal (most are vitamin-fortified, but amount varies with brand/type) 40    10
Egg yolk, 1     20     6
Beef liver, cooked, 3.5 oz.    15           4
Swiss cheese, 1 oz 12        4

Am I at risk for calcium and vitamin D deficiency?
Those who are lactose intolerant or eat a high protein, high sodium diet are at risk for being deficient in these important nutrients. Homebound individuals and those who do not get outside much are at increased risk as well. People with darker skin have more pigment, which also reduces the skin’s ability to synthesize vitamin D. Individuals with a body mass index of 30 or greater (considered obese) also do not synthesize vitamin D as well.

If you are at risk of not getting enough calcium and vitamin D, you are at risk for osteoporosis. Because osteoporosis is a “silent disease,” it’s important to make sure your diet includes enough calcium and vitamin D and that your daily routine includes exercise. Ask your physician about testing your bone density, a simple and painless test.

Considerations when taking supplements
Most people should try to meet their calcium needs from foods before adding supplements to their diet to help avoid getting too much calcium. When taken in excess, calcium supplements can impair kidney function and form kidney stones. Too much also can decrease absorption of other minerals, like iron and phosphorus.

Calcium and vitamin D supplements have the potential to interact with some prescription and over-the-counter medications, including mineral oil or stimulant laxatives and some antacids. Talk with your physician about medications you are taking before starting calcium or vitamin D supplements.

Call your physician for more information or for a bone density scan.

To find a physician visit our find a doc or call (502) 629-1234 for a physician referral.

 

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