In almost every Indian household, making the children drink a glass of milk everyday is a norm that has been followed for generations. If I were to state my pet peeve while growing up, it has to be that very old practice. The tall glass of the pale, insipid liquid may seem far from being intimidating but its mere sight would instill fear in me. The fear of having to gulp it down entirely without leaving a drop under the strict surveillance of my mother. No matter how hard I tried to find creative excuses, there was just no getting away.
My hatred for milk may have started because of its awful smell. Back in the day, store-brought carton milk was a distant phenomenon. My family lived by the ethos of self-sustained livelihood where all our needs were at the convenience of our own backyard. But as a child I didn’t know the value of it. The fresh milk was my worst enemy and no amount of added flavours could nurture my love for it.
In consolation, my mother would say, “milk is good for you. This is where you get your calcium. And calcium is important for your bones. Don’t you want to have strong bones and grow tall?” Of course I did. And that is precisely why I made amends with it. Ironically, as I found out much later, having two-three glasses of milk per day is not enough for our bone health.
Know Your Calcium Needs
Researchers say that for the body to absorb and use calcium, we must also consume right amounts of vitamins such as Vitamin D. Collectively, they hep in bone development, proper functioning of the heart, muscles and nerves, and the maintenance of calcium level in the blood. When we consume food, the calcium content gets absorbed by the blood and some amount gets deposited in our bones. Based on our needs, the body then uses the calcium. If our daily calcium intake is too low to keep the blood calcium normal, the body withdraws the calcium requirements from the bones. It functions much like a bank. Over time, if more calcium is removed from the bones than it is deposited, it leads to weaker bones and diseases like osteoporosis.
Depending on our age, the rate of losing and growing bone differs. Children make more bone than they lose but as they become an adult, gradual bone loss begins. In women, after the age of 50, the situation becomes more severe due to other related factors such as hormonal changes of menopause.
Since calcium isn’t produced by the body, what we eat solely contributes to the body’s requirement. According to the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) developed by the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, men aged between 19-70 years require 1000mg calcium per day whereas men aged 70 years and above require 1200mg per day. In women, those aged within 19-50 years require 1000mg per day whereas above 50 years require 1200mg per day.
Calcium rich food include dairy milk and dairy products such as cheese, buttermilk and yoghurt, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, okra, white beans, chickpeas, edamame, figs, oranges, sardines, salmon, tofu, and soy beverages to name a few. If you are a vegan or do not like dairy products then nut milks are a good source of calcium, especially almond milk.
Among my mother’s many life lessons, a primary one included maintaining a well-planned diet regime. She would say, “a good diet is the key to a long life.” As much as I agree with her philosophy and try to follow a diet schedule, but it is not always a successful attempt. Work stress teamed with a few bad habits and lack of discipline cause a mayhem. This is when supplements step in.
Calcium supplements are of different types and available in the market in various forms – liquid, powder, chewable or tablets. They are made up of varying calcium compounds such as calcium carbonate, calcium citrate, calcium gluconate, calcium lactate, etc. Some of the supplements are also combined with vitamins and minerals.
If you scan through the info on the package, you will come across a term called as elemental calcium. According to Mayo Clinic, it is the actual amount of calcium in the supplement that the body absorbs for bone growth and other health benefits. The facts label is helpful in determining how much calcium is in one serving so make sure you read it carefully before starting your dosage. It is a simple process; first check the serving size, which is the number of tablets per serving. Then look for the calcium quantity and determine the elemental calcium (mg) per tablet. For example, calcium carbonate is 40 percent elemental calcium, so 1,250 mg of calcium carbonate contains 500 mg of elemental calcium. Calcium citrate is 21 percent elemental calcium. Luckily, most manufacturers today mention the elemental calcium content so you needn’t spend time calculating.
It is recommended to consume not more than 500mg of calcium per intake because only when taken in small quantities can the body effectively absorb it for the various needs. Also, the supplements, especially calcium carbonate should be taken along with food due to its high dependency on gastric acid for absorption.
There are no severe side effects related to the consumption of calcium supplements though some could face acidity and constipation depending on the calcium compound and the manufacturer. If you are already under the prescription of other drugs, then some problems could arise. Ensure that you consult a physician before starting your dosage.