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Calcium: How Much Is Enough?

The messages are all around: avoid soft drinks and colas; drink more milk.

And the ads promoting milk-drinking sure are catchy.

But as News 2's Paul Moniz reports, confusion about how much calcium a body needs abounds.

Mixed messages are part of the problem. Some reports suggests you may not be getting enough of this important mineral, which keeps bones and teeth strong and may possibly ward off certain cancers.

Other studies warn not to get too much, which can have negative side effects.

"People have complained of constipation, gastrointestinal problems and there's a question of having calcium deposits and kidney stones," says Shari Bilt, a nutritionist with Weill Cornell Medical Center.

But Bilt says the bigger problem is calcium deficiency, which can cause osteoporosis and contribute to high blood pressure and some forms of cancer.

Despite eating a healthy diet, it's estimated that nine of every 10 women get only about half of the calcium they need and men fall short by about one-third.

"That's because most people don't consume enough dairy products," Bilt explains. "You'd need at least three glasses of milk to meet your daily requirement."

Men and children should get an average of 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily. Women need 1,200 milligrams. Some doctors recommend even more for women over 50-years-old.

"What I've recommended to my patients is to calculate the amount of calcium-rich foods they've had in a day and then at the end of the day, they may need to take an extra supplement," Bilt says.

If you choose to take supplements, you should not take more than 500 milligrams at a time because the body cannot absorb more than that effectively.

Calcium-fortified foods such as orange juice and hot chocolate can make up the difference in what you're not getting in your diet. The calcium can add up.

But if you're trying to lose weight, fortified products may not help.

"They're fortified but they're also higher in calories and sugar," Bilt says.

And if you drink soy milk rather than regular milk, you should know it contains almost no calcium. Buy the fortified variety.

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