Originally created 08/14/97

Got milk? Americans need more calcium to avoid brittle bones



WASHINGTON (AP) - Virtually all American adults - not just women - should eat and drink more calcium-rich foods such as milk, cheese and yogurt to slow an "alarming" increase in the brittle-bone disease osteoporosis, a panel of experts said Wednesday.

Protecting against brittle bones requires 1,000 to 1,300 milligrams of calcium a day, the report by the Institute of Medicine concludes. But most Americans get far less than that.

"Most age groups are not at 75 percent - especially women," said Dr. Connie M. Weaver, a Purdue University nutrition expert on the panel. "Among elderly Americans, only about 10 percent are getting anywhere close to the requirements needed to protect against losing bone."

Dairy products are the major source of calcium in the diet. But worries about the fat content in whole-milk products has frightened a generation of Americans away from these foods, Weaver said. High-fat diets have been linked to heart disease and obesity.

Although fat-free or low-fat milk products are now common, many people still avoid the dairy case, she said.

"That is why one out of four women will have hip fractures within their lifetime," said Weaver.

Hip fractures are on the increase among men as well, she said. They now account for about 20 percent of such injuries.

"The increase in osteoporosis is becoming alarming," said Weaver. "It now costs the nation about $13.8 billion annually in health-care expense."

New research into calcium and its effect on bones and general health caused the panel to change the way the nutrient's value is calculated.

Instead of setting a Recommended Dietary Allowance for calcium, the panel established what it calls Adequate Intake. RDAs have been used since 1941 as the measure of "nutritional adequacy," but the committee said the AI measure is for nutrient levels needed for "optimizing health."

The new system also establishes more age categories for preferred nutrient levels.

For children ages 1 to 3, the board recommends 500 milligrams of calcium daily. The level jumps to 800 mg for ages 4 through 8, and to 1,300 mg for ages 9 through 18.

The AI for ages 19 to 50 is 1,000 mg. For those aged 51 and older, the board called for dietary calcium levels of 1,200 mg daily.

The new levels are 25 to 50 percent higher for adults than RDAs previously used.

"The need is greater than we previously thought, so the requirements went up some," said Weaver. The most serious deficiency is among females ages 11 and older. Adequate calcium at young ages helps to build bone density that will resist osteoporosis later in life, the researcher said.

For pregnant and lactating women, calcium AI levels of 1,300 mg daily were recommended for ages 14 to 18, 1,000 mg for ages 19 through 50. Earlier RDA calcium levels for pregnant and lactating women were 1,200 mg.

Calcium intake is best accomplished by eating foods rich in the nutrient, but some people also may require fortified foods or pills, the panel said.

"The panel recommends food first because there are a lot of nutrients other than calcium that are helpful in building bone," Weaver said. "But taking supplements is better than not getting calcium at all."

Although dairy foods are the most common source of calcium, food such as tofu, spinach, almonds, mustard greens, pinto beans and broccoli are also rich in it.

The panel also set new dietary levels for phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin D and fluoride. Weaver said these are not significantly different from earlier recommendations.

"Calcium is the most serious issue," she said.

Adding calcium to your diet

Foods rich in calcium, showing the amount of food and the amount of absorbable calcium they contain:

  • Cheddar cheese, 1.5oz112mg
  • Skim milk, cup=96mg
  • Tofu, cup=160mg
  • Mustard greens, cup=76mg
  • Broccoli, cup=36mg
  • Almonds, 1oz=17mg
  • Spinach, cup=12mg
  • The new Institute of Medicine report considers these to be adequate daily intake levels:

    Infants: 0 to 6 months, 210 mg; 6 to 12 months 270 mg.

    Children: 1 through 3 years, 500 mg; 4 through 8 years, 800 mg; 9 through 18 years, 1,300 mg.

    Adults: 19 through 50 years 1,000 mg; 51 and older 1,200 mg.

    Pregnant and lactating women, age 14 through 18, 1,300 mg; age 19 through 50, 1,000 mg.