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MEDICINE | THE LEAN PLATE

Need more calcium? Reach for fortified foods

Milk is still the leading source, but other options can get the job done too.

May 01, 2006|Sally Squires | Special to The Times

Parents and their offspring sometimes seem as if they have little in common. But both often fall short on a key nutrient: calcium.

This mineral is best known for building strong bones, but it does much more. Without sufficient calcium, the body can't maintain healthy blood vessels, produce enough hormones or enable nerves to signal each other. Calcium helps regulate blood pressure, and several studies point to a role for calcium in preventing insulin resistance -- the condition that is one step shy of Type 2 diabetes.

The National Academy of Sciences sets 1,300 milligrams a day of calcium -- about the amount found in three glasses of skim milk and a cup of yogurt a day -- as the adequate daily intake for children, age 9 to 18. People age 19 to 50 need less: 1,000 milligrams daily. But with age, the requirement increases. Those 51 and older need 1,200 milligrams daily.

To help Americans cover the calcium bases, the latest federal dietary guidelines urge consumption of three cups of skim or low-fat milk daily for most children and all adults. (Both whole milk and 2% have slightly less calcium.)

National food surveys conducted by the federal government suggest that many people don't get enough calcium-rich foods. Although milk remains the leading calcium source for most people, there are plenty of other options. Here are some possibilities:

* Reach for calcium-fortified cereals. They ranked No. 1 on the list of leading food sources of calcium in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report.

* Eat more asparagus, leeks and garlic. They're just some of the foods that are naturally high in inulin -- a carbohydrate that can be only partially digested. A 2001 pilot study of inulin in children conducted at the Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine in found that inulin helped growing kids absorb more calcium and build more bone. Other foods rich in inulin include onions, artichokes, bananas, wheat, rye, barley and chicory -- one more reason to boost fruit, vegetables and whole grains.

* Toss tofu into your stir fry. Half a cup provides about 1 1/2 times the amount of calcium found in a glass of nonfat or skim milk.

* Eat a grilled cheese sandwich. Two ounces of pasteurized Swiss cheese packs as much calcium as a cup and a half of skim milk, but it also comes with about 70 more calories.

* Dip vegetables into low-fat yogurt. Purchase ready-made yogurt dips or make your own with cilantro and other herbs and spices. Yogurt ranks No. 2 on the list of leading calcium foods compiled by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

* Enjoy pudding. Make it with skim milk. For an extra calcium boost, add a quarter- to half-cup of nonfat powdered milk. Lactose intolerant? Use milk that has lactase, the enzyme you are missing, added to it to breakdown lactose. Or choose calcium-fortified, low-fat soy milk.

* Treat yourself to chocolate milk. A tablespoon of chocolate syrup has 50 calories and less than a gram of fat. Add it to a cup of skim milk for a special treat that contains about a third of the daily recommended intake.

* Toss sesame seeds onto your salads. An ounce packs about the same amount of calcium as skim milk, 306 milligrams. Choose bagels, bread or crackers with sesame seeds.

* Drink calcium-fortified orange juice. It packs as much calcium as milk, and many varieties come with vitamin D, another bone-building nutrient. As for calories, an 8-ounce glass has 110, compared with 80 for a glass of skim milk.

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