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How much calcium do I really need in my diet? 

"Ask the Experts" at East Jefferson General Hospital [Web Exclusive Content]

Calcium, the most abundant mineral in our bodies, has several important functions. Calcium is needed for bone and teeth support, muscle use, blood vessel functions, release of hormones and enzymes, and nervous system message transport. Calcium recommendations are developed by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. Daily values vary based on gender, age, and health condition.

Based on the Continuing Survey of Food Intakes of Individuals, 55% of men and 78% of women over 20 years old are not consuming enough calcium. According to the US Department of Agriculture's MyPyramid, everyone two years of age and older should eat two to three servings of dairy products daily. Yogurt, milk, and cheese are major sources of calcium and are easily utilized in the body.

If you do not eat dairy products, it is important to consume foods with added calcium. Some non-dairy foods and calcium-fortified foods may be good sources of calcium, but you may have to eat several servings to get the same amount of calcium in one cup of milk. Vitamin D is required for absorption and utilization of calcium; selecting foods containing both is beneficial.

Multiple research studies have shown that those who consume at least three servings of dairy products every day weigh less than those who avoid dairy. Calcium may play a role in fat breakdown, prevent absorption of dietary fat, and facilitate weight loss, especially when consumed as part of a reduced-calorie diet.

For more information on how to meet your individual calcium needs, contactChantal Lemoine, RD, LDN, Outpatient Clinical Dietitian at East Jefferson General Hospital at 504-454-4077 or clemoine@ejgh.org.

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