By Stephenie Karony

Wednesday, November 17, 1999

Diet gives us majority
of calcium we require

Question: Which form of calcium supplement is best? How much should I take, and when should I take it?

Answer: First off, don't rely on supplements alone to get your daily requirement of calcium. Get as much as you can from your diet. Foods contain other important nutrients, some of which promote calcium absorption.

If you're a woman over 50 years of age, or a man over 65, you'll need about 1,500 milligrams total of calcium per day. Everyone else should consume about 1,000 milligrams per day.

The best dietary sources of calcium are dairy products. An 8 ounce serving of nonfat yogurt contains 400 milligrams of calcium, a cup of skim milk 300 milligrams.

Nonfat dairy foods contain slightly more calcium per serving than low fat or whole milk products. That's good news, because nonfat dairy foods are also lower in calories and contain no saturated fat.

Other very good sources of calcium are: tofu (250 milligrams in one cup), sardines (a 3-ounce serving with bone contains a whopping 370 milligrams) and broccoli (70 milligrams per cup).

So which form of calcium supplement is best?

All calcium supplements have to be combined with a carbonate, citrate, lactate, phosphate or gluconate. You cannot buy a pure calcium pill.

What you'll want to look for is the amount of calcium, in milligrams per pill, and if they have the initials "USP" on the label. USP means that the product meets the U.S. Pharmacopeia's standards of reliability for dissolving and dosage.

There are differences between the various forms of calcium.

Calcium carbonates contain the most calcium per pill, and cost less than other forms. The drawback to carbonates is that they may cause gastric distress in some individuals. In that case, another form is recommended.

Calcium citrates, or any of the other forms, are just as absorbable, but they cost more and contain less calcium per pill than does calcium carbonate, so you'll have to take more pills to get the same amount.

Some calcium labels state that they're high dosage, free of yeast, all natural, no sugar, no starch, no preservatives, etc. These claims are meaningless. Individual manufacturers use claims such as these to charge more for their product.

The best time to take a calcium supplement is with meals. This will increase the likelihood of absorption.

Also, don't take more than 500 milligrams at a time. Don't megadose on calcium, or for that matter, any vitamin or mineral because excessive calcium intake may increase your risk of developing kidney stones. Megadosing may be harmful to your body; it certainly is harmful to your pocketbook.

Calcium interacts with some drugs, so check with your doctor or pharmacist before using a supplement if you think you may be at risk.

Finally, avoid calcium supplements made from bone meal, dolomite or oyster shell, as they may contain lead and other toxic substances.

Stephenie Karony is a certified health
and fitness instructor, a personal trainer and the author of
"Body Shaping with Free Weights." Send questions to her at
P.O. Box 262, Wailuku Hi. Her column appears on Wednesdays.

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