Bones are the storehouse for one of the most important elements in the human body: Calcium. If we fail to consume more calcium than we lose each day, the body immediately draws on its stores – the bones. And if this process continues for any length of time, osteoporosis can develop.
Osteoporosis would affect everyone if they were to live long enough. As a result of a process called demineralization, calcium is lost from the bones which then become thin and brittle and are liable to break easily.
In severe cases, fractures occur after slight knocks or normal activities such as lifting and bending. There is no cure for this debilitating condition, but its onset can be delayed by ensuring an adequate intake of calcium. Calcium is needed every day to replace that which is lost through the skin and normal excretions. High sodium (salt) and protein intake also increase calcium loss.
While women are most at risk of developing osteoporosis after menopause, younger women can also develop it, either because of an inherited tendency for the condition or if their hormonal balance has been affected by illness, eating disorders or over-exercising.
Men also suffer from osteoporosis but it is rarely seen before 60 years of age. After this, the incidence increases with age. It appears that men and women may not differ significantly in the rate at which they lose bone mass, but as men start with a higher bone density, they can afford to lose it before showing the signs of stress or fractures.
Milk and milk products are a rich source of calcium as well as containing a variety of other nutrients needed for a healthy, balanced diet.
Other good sources of calcium are:
- salmon and sardines (if you eat the bones)
- baked beans
- almonds and spinach
- nuts and seeds
- milk, cheese and other dairy foods
The best way to make sure that you are having enough calcium is to consume at least three serves of dairy food each day. One serving is equivalent to a glass of milk, a tub of yogurt or a slice of cheese. For those who are concerned about their weight or their cholesterol levels, low-fat milks are ideal. Some of these have a higher calcium content than regular milk.
The calcium-enriched products are particularly useful for older women who need extra calcium and for younger people who have few other sources of calcium in the diet. It is important to read the nutrition panels on each brand to find the fat content and calcium contribution that you need.
Cream cheese, cream, sour cream, butter and coffee whiteners are very low in calcium and are not substitutes for milk. Soy milks which have not been fortified to a similar level of calcium as milk are also not good substitutes.
Here are a few tips for increasing calcium in the diet:
- Offer children milk to drink rather than sweetened drinks and fruit juices. Water is a good alternative to milk. (This is good advice for adults, too.)
- Have breakfast cereals with milk, and do not just have them at breakfast time. These are a nutritious snack for growing children and teenagers.
- To finish off a meal, serve ice cream or milk puddings, milk jellies and jelly whips, custards and yogurt. These all contain useful amounts of calcium and are particularly good when people do not like to drink milk. Yogurt has the advantage of being low in fat.
- Add skim milk powder to mashed potato and soups and when baking.
- Try casseroles using milk-based white sauces.
Here are some calcium-packed recipes to strengthen your bones.
1. White Hot Chocolate
- 2 cups milk
- 100 g white chocolate, chopped
- chocolate powder, for sprinkling
Heat the milk and chocolate in a saucepan until the chocolate has melted and the milk is hot. Alternatively, heat in the microwave on High for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Using an electric beater, whisk until frothy. Using a spoon to hold back the froth, pour the milk into 2 mugs and spoon the remaining froth on top. Sprinkle with chocolate powder and serve immediately. Serves 2.
2. Harlequin Chowder
- 50 g butter
- 1 onion, diced
- ½ red pepper, diced
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 4 cups milk
- ¼ cup skim milk powder
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 large potato, peeled and diced
- 1 x 440 g can creamed corn
- ½ cup frozen peas, thawed
- ½ cup grated reduced-fat cheddar cheese
Melt the butter in a saucepan and saute the onion and pepper until softened. Add the flour and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add the combined milk and milk powder, and stock, and stir until slightly thickened. Add the potatoes and corn and simmer for 10 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Add the peas and cheese and simmer a further 5 minutes. Serve with crusty bread. Serves 4.
3. Creamed Rice with Three Fruit Salad
- ½ cup short grain rice
- 5 cups milk
- ½ cup skim milk powder
- ¼ cup powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 kiwi fruits, chopped
- 1 cup strawberries, halved
- 1 mango (or canned peaches), chopped
Place the rice, milk and milk powder in a large saucepan, bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. Simmer for 35-40 minutes or until the milk is absorbed and the mixture is thick and creamy. Stir in the sugar and cinnamon. Divide half the creamed rice mixture into 6 glasses, layer with fruit and remaining creamed rice. Refrigerate until set. Serve garnished with extra fruit. Serves 6.