Extension Connection: Calcium essential for healthy bones

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 22, 2008

By CHERYL VASSE / Guest Columnist

The human skeleton has 206 bones that need to stay strong for us to have an active, healthy lifestyle. When we think of bones, we don’t think of them as living tissue but bones are alive and are constantly changing.

Ninety-nine percent of our calcium reserves are found in our bones. Until about the age of 35, your body is storing calcium in your bones.

Most bone is made between 10 to 18 years of age and is known as peak bone mass. It is important to get enough weight-bearing exercise and calcium for the best peak bone mass.

If you do not get enough calcium and exercise during your teen years, it could lead to a condition later on in life known as osteoporosis where the bones become fragile and break easily.

Many adults and teens do not like to drink milk and select other beverages that do not provide them with the nutrients they need. You can try flavoring milk with sugar free or regular chocolate syrup, vanilla or almond extract, or make a fruit smoothie from frozen fruit and milk. Low-fat or nonfat buttermilk or sweet acidophilus milk are other selections that provide a flavor some people may prefer.

To maintain bone health the following amounts are recommended depending on age: 500 mg per day of calcium for 1-3 year olds, 800 for 4-8 year olds, 1,300 mg for 9-18 year olds, 1,000 mg for 19-50 year olds, and 1,200 mg for adults over 50.

Milk group foods are the easiest way to get the recommended amounts. Recipes can be altered to make them contain less fat by experimenting with low-fat dairy products. When altering a recipe, you should make small changes each time you try the recipe to avoid a poor end product.

Try some of the following suggestions.

Try a “skinny” latte with nonfat milk and artificially sweetened flavoring or use plain yogurt instead of sour cream in dips or other places where sour cream is used as a topping. Plain yogurt can also be used in place of some of the mayonnaise used in sauces, salad dressings and as a sandwich spread.

Don’t be afraid to try other low-fat alternatives. There are always new products being introduced into the market to help people seeking a low-fat lifestyle. Weight-bearing exercise is also important for maintaining bone health and reducing the risk of osteoporosis.

Swimming is a great exercise, but it is not a weight-bearing exercise like walking, hiking, aerobics, dancing or basketball.

Other ways to protect your bones include avoiding drinking heavily or smoking, limiting your salt intake, eating more fruits and vegetables and getting enough vitamin D to help with the absorption of calcium.

Cheryl Vasse is a regional extension agent. She can be reached by phone at 410-3696