High on Food High in Calcium

The Schroeder family takes a skating break at the Mt. Vernon Recreation Center ice rink in Alexandria.
The Schroeder family takes a skating break at the Mt. Vernon Recreation Center ice rink in Alexandria. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
By Sally Squires
Tuesday, April 25, 2006

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

This common mineral is best known for building strong bones. But without enough calcium, your body can't maintain healthy blood vessels, produce enough hormones or enable nerves to signal each other. Calcium helps regulate blood pressure, and a number of studies point to a role for calcium in preventing insulin resistance -- the condition that is one step shy of type 2 diabetes.

For these reasons, getting more calcium is one goal of this, the fourth and final week of the Lean Plate Club Fit for Fun Family Challenge, a program designed to help develop healthy habits. The challenge isn't about losing weight. It's designed to help you and your significant others breeze into a healthier summer by making small, sustainable changes that research suggests can be a foundation for long-term behavior change.

If you're just discovering the challenge, that's okay, because it's never too late to join. The weekly goals, tools and resources are available online at http://www.leanplateclub.com/ , where you can also register and see how your daily activity stacks up against others who are taking the challenge.

The National Academy of Sciences sets 1,300 milligrams of calcium -- about the amount found in three glasses of skim milk and a cup of yogurt -- as the adequate daily intake for people aged 9 to 18. Those 19 to 50 need less: 1,000 milligrams. But with age, the requirement increases. People 51 and older need 1,200 milligrams daily. To help Americans cover the calcium bases, the latest dietary guidelines urge consumption of three eight-ounce servings of skim or low-fat milk daily for most children and all adults.

Government food surveys suggest that most people don't drink enough milk or make up the difference with foods including spinach and some other green vegetables. That's why we've made boosting calcium-rich foods the goal for this final week. (For family activity, the task is to do one 30-minute activity together as a family this week. Walking, running, dancing and jumping rope are just a few of the weight-bearing activities that help build bone.)

While 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 number one on the list of food sources of calcium compiled by the expert committee that drafted the U.S. Dietary Guidelines advisory report, which forms the basis for the guidelines. One choice: Total Whole Grain cereal. Three-quarters of a cup provides 100 percent of the recommended daily calcium.

Toss tofu into your stir fry. Half a cup provides about the same amount of calcium as a glass and a half of milk does.

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 at the Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine found that inulin helped growing kids absorb more calcium and build more bone. The researchers noted that eating foods rich in inulin-- such as onions, artichokes, bananas, wheat, rye, barley and chicory -- could help boost calcium absorption.

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's also higher in calories: 190 calories vs. 120.

Dip vegetables into low-fat yogurt. Purchase ready-made yogurt dips or make your own with cilantro and other herbs and spices. Yogurt ranks number two on the list of leading calcium food sources complied by the guidelines committee.

Enjoy pudding. Make it with skim milk. For an extra calcium boost, add nonfat powdered milk. Lactose-intolerant? Use milk with lactase. 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. Or make hot chocolate. A cup of nonfat chocolate skim milk contains 306 milligrams of calcium, or about a third of the daily recommended intake.

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

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

Celebrate the Family Challenge, meet other Lean Plate Club members and learn about "Secrets of the Lean Plate Club" (St. Martin's Press) at a reader forum on Saturday, April 29, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at The Washington Post, 1150 15th Street NW, Washington, DC 20071. RSVP to 202-334-7969. Join Sally Squires online today from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. athttp://www.leanplateclub.com, where you can also subscribe to the free, Lean Plate Club weekly e-mail newsletter.

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