So where to begin? Calcium. You've all heard of it, and you all know it's supposed to help your bones, but what exactly does it do, why do you need it and what can you eat to get it?
I will start with why I personally believe in spreading the word about Calcium. When I was 16, I was dropped when flying as a cheerleader in high school. I compression fractured a vertebrae in my thoracic spine. A Normal 16 year old might not have fractured it to begin with, and if they did, they would be able to heal in a few weeks. Unfortunately I wasn't "normal". I battled bulimia nervosa and later anorexia nervosa off and on from the time I was 15 to the time I was 21. My body did not have the proper nutrition and calcium to not only keep my bones strong enough from breaking, but it definitely didn't get the proper calcium to heal it and. I now am 23 years old and have the spine of close to a 55 year old women, and I have arthritis, not to mention all of the actual damage to the spine and discs themselves. I wish I could go back and time and have been healthy and done all I could to prevent what it's like now, but I can't. All I can do is tell people how important Calcium is to their bone health, so hopefully nobody ever has to go through what I am and will have to for the rest of my life.
Let's start with the benefits: Everybody knows that Calcium is for bone strength, but what exactly does that mean? It means that without Calcium your bones will weaken and eventually begin to break, even without major trauma. Osteoporosis, and low bone density will all cause your bones to be weak and fracture more easily. Calcium is also responsible for your nails and teeth. Without Calcium, your nails would turn white and your teeth would become brittle and easily break as well. Many people you see in third world countries often have a lot of missing teeth, not only from lack of dental care, but a lot of people are not getting adequate nutrition and calcium to support the health of their teeth.
It's not as simple as simply eating calcium-rich foods. Vitamin D is something we all need to absorb Calcium and help the body retain it and keep it's levels at a healthy balance. Vitamin D rich foods include many breakfast cereals, soy milk, regular milk does have some, fish, etc. The RDA (Recommended dietary Allowance) for Vitamin D is about 800 IU (International Units), if you take supplements, most supplements contain about 400 IU, so you would only need to obtain about 400 from your diet
As Americans, many of us do not get the amount of Calcium we need, because most people are not eating healthy. Fast food, eating out, and frozen dinner don't always cut it when it comes to what you really need. So ask for a nutrition fact sheet and/or check the box. Women on average only get about 744mg calcium each day which falls short of the recommended 800-1000mg. If you are vegan you do need to find healthy substitutes to assure you are getting proper calcium. Spinach, and many other dark leafy greens do offer a fair amount of Calcium. 1.5% of our body is made of Calcium (Ca). When put into perspective that is a lot, so let's see how we can achieve this?
Recommended Daily Intake: (They slightly vary depending on where you look, but this is the standard)
Children: Ages: 1-3: 700mg
4-11: 800 mg
Girls/Women: 12-15: 1000 mg
Men: 12-15: 1200mg
16-18: 1000 mg
18 and up: 800mg
Note: Do not exceed the maximum tolerable limit of Calcium, which is 2500mg.
What foods can I get Calcium from?
Milk (8 oz glass of 2% milk has about 35% of your daily calcium needs)
Fortified foods: (Orange juice, breakfast cereals, etc.)
...and many others. Those are just a few of my favorite ways to get it in. I take in a lot of calcium now in hopes of stopping the problems where I'm at, but once you get to the calcium-depleted state, your body cannot reverse the damage, so be smart and get your calcium now, before it's too late!