Why You Should Drink Your Milk

Some are calling it the "superstar of nutrients," and say it can do everything from reducing PMS symptoms to cutting the risk of colon cancer. Studies show most Americans aren't getting enough of it. The subject is calcium, and Dr. Bernadine Healy has details.

Everybody knows that calcium is great for bones and teeth, and we know that if you take it over a lifetime it decreases your chance of getting osteoporosis, the brittle bones that lead to bone fractures in the elderly.

New studies show calcium may have other benefits as well. Among them:

  • Cancer prevention: Calcium is important in preventing certain cancers, colon cancer in particular. There are studies that suggest it could be of benefit in preventing breast cancer in women and maybe prostate cancer in men.
  • Blood pressure: Adequate calcium decreases the chance of getting elevated blood pressure, and of course that lessens the chance of heart disease and stroke.
  • PMS: Adequate calcium intake decreases symptoms of pre-menstrual syndrome.

We need more calcium than most people think. About 75 percent of Americans are undernourished when it comes to calcium.

The recommended levels have recently been increased. They differ by age group:

  • Children ages 1 to 3 need 500 milligrams per day.
  • Those ages 4 to 8 should get 800 milligrams.
  • From age 9 to 18, 1300 milligrams per day is needed.
  • Those 19 to 50 years old need 1000 milligrams per day.
  • Anyone over the age of 51 should get 1200 milligrams a day.

It's best to get calcium naturally by eating calcium-rich foods. Most of the calcium that we have in our food supply is in dairy products.

You could drink four glasses of low fat milk a day to get the right amount. Each 8-ounce glass has 300 milligrams. Or, choose milk products such as non-fat yogurt, which has 450 per cup.

But you do not have to get all your calcium from dairy products. Calcium can be found in fruits and vegetables. Orange juice fortified with calcium or tofu are good choices. A cup of spinach has almost 300 milligrams.

If you're not getting enough calcium and can't get it in your diet, you need supplements. If you are getting only 800 milligrams and you need 1200, you need a supplement.

Many types are available over the counter. Calcium carbonate is the best. It's inexpensive and easily absorbed.

You shouldn't take more than 500 milligrams of calcium supplements at a time. Too much can cause kidney stones.

By Dr. Bernadine Healy
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