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The Importance of Dietary Calcium

By Jodie Shield, M.Ed., RD, LD

The number one concern I hear from parents is that their kids are not getting proper nutrients, such as calcium, through their diets. Moms, too, worry that they're not getting enough dietary calcium themselves.

As a registered dietician and mother of three, I share these concerns. Calcium is an essential part of any balanced diet and can be found in a wide variety of foods. Yet it is too often overlooked in our daily diets.

Calcium is important in developing and maintaining strong, healthy bones. While the amount of calcium needed changes over time, calcium intake is critical for everyone from toddlers to mature adults. Calcium builds strong bones during the growing years, keeps bones strong during the middle years, and helps regulate blood pressure in women during pregnancy. Studies show that calcium-rich foods, such as yogurt, when eaten regularly, can help reduce the risk of osteoporosis, the thinning and loss of bone mass that affects 25 million Americans as they age. In addition, research shows a diet that includes lowfat dairy foods, as well as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains may significantly reduce hypertension, or high blood pressure, in both men and women. Furthermore, recent studies suggest that increasing calcium intake may also reduce the risk of colon cancer.

I believe the "food first" approach is the best way to ensure you're getting enough dietary calcium, and the good news for your family is that this solution if well within reach. In fact, it's as close as the dairy case at your local supermarket, your children's school program, and even your own refrigerator. Eating a variety of calcium-rich foods remains the best way to get the calcium you need every day, whether it's yogurt right out of the cup for breakfast, lunch or as a snack, or salmon and broccoli at dinner. Keep calcium-rich foods like yogurt stocked in your refrigerator for fun, wholesome food for the entire family.

Children, teens and adults get the majority of their calcium from dairy products, which are the best and most convenient source of dietary calcium and eight other essential nutrients. Yogurt, for example, is not only an excellent source of calcium but also a good source of protein. In fact, an average eight-ounce serving of live and active culture yogurt contains approximately 20 percent of the Daily Value for protein. Enjoy calcium-rich foods like yogurt every day and you'll see how easy meeting your calcium needs and adopting a healthy diet can be.