Sunday, November 7, 2010

Calcium Loading

The New York City Marathon is one of the city’s big fall events.  Runners enjoy an annual pasta meal the night before the big race.  Everyone knows its called “carb-loading” and it helps lean marathoners go the distance without depletion. 

There’s another race that more if us are involved in, the slightly longer marathon to maintain strong bones throughout our lives.  While marathoners are carb-loading, you can be calcium-loading. 

Calcium-loading is a mindful approach to getting calcium at as many meals as possible every day.  The body can only absorb about 500 mg of calcium at a time but the recommended daily amount is between 1,000-1,500 mg for most adults.  Taking a calcium supplement is recommended for many women but keeping up with the dosage can be taxing.  Take it all at once and most is lost to the body.  Try to take a pill at every meal and risk forgetting. Healthy bones are too important to neglect so here is a plan to keep calcium flowing through your system via- surprise- food.  Many low fat options make this possible for all but the lactose intolerant.  Add a few of these to your routine on a consistent basis and your doctor may suggest cutting back on the supplements.

There are choices at every meal and snack opportunity:

Coffee Latte—Get you caffeine with a bigger shot of milk and add 33mg calcium for every ounce (regardless of fat content).   I like strong hot coffee with at least 1/3 of the mug filled with milk.  That’s almost 100 mg* and plenty of caffeine.

Hot Chocolate-- Don't feel guilty about a morning hot cocoa.  If you can make it yourself,  it's likely you'll get out the door with less sugar and fewer calories than a coffeehouse special latte.  Hold the marshmallows.

Orange Juice—you can buy calcium-fortified versions but plain is also a contributor at 52 mg. calcium in 4 ounces.

Egg- one large egg contributes 27 mg calcium to your morning.  (Note: over 90% of the calcium is in the yolk.)

Yogurt- dollop it on oatmeal, which itself contributes about 85 mg of calcium in a cup, eat it plain or in a breakfast parfait with fresh or stewed fruit and a handful of low fat granola.   Eight ounces provides from 300-500 mg of calcium  (check the label on your favorite).

Cream cheese- replace butter with an ounce of regular or low fat cream cheese on toast, muffins, rolls and bagels.  Skimp on that huge bagel by cutting it in half but don’t cheat yourself out of the nutrition-rich cheese.   It also delivers a nice quantity of protein, keeping you satisfied through the morning.  One ounce gives you 25+ mg calcium bonus over butter or jams.  Mix in some cinnamon or a teaspoon of maple syrup for a terrific pancake or whole wheat waffle spread. 

Almond butter is a second option on breakfast breads.  It tastes good with cream cheese or on its own.  One tablespoon gives you 43 mg of calcium.

Smoothies made with low fat milk, plain yogurt and fruits including banana as a thickener make a quick breakfast protein shake.  Here’s a seasonal recipe that tastes like pumpkin pie:

Pumpkin Smoothie:
Serves 1

1/2 cup skim milk
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/3 cup pureed pumpkin (canned is fine
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon maple syrup or honey
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

  1. Shake all ingredients together in a lidded jar with a few ice cubes or, if doubling the recipe, mix it up in a blender. 

Beverage of choice: Milk- your kids are (perhaps) having a glass of milk with their school lunch.  Maybe you should try it too.  Skim milk goes well with a sandwich and adds a big boost of both calcium and protein to your day.

Cheese please- Diet guides often recommend peeling the cheese off a sandwich to lower calories.  Instead, add a slice of your favorite hard cheese and lose a slice of bread to create an open face sandwich.  One ounce of most hard cheese provides between 100-200 mg calcium with only about 100 extra nutrient rich calories. If you can’t get out of your own way on the calories front, enjoy low-calorie versions of cheddar, Swiss and many others.  Melted is really good!

Spinach salad- Toss a cup of baby spinach leaves into your next midday salad and scoop up an extra 30 mg of calcium with just 7 calories. 

And while you’re at the salad bar, reach for chick peas.  You’ll add 43 mg calcium for every half cup (143 calories and 6 grams of protein makes your salad a main dish).

Cottage Cheese- Once considered “diet food” only, cottage cheese is still a great side or satisfying snack with melon or pineapple.  Now it’s also used by savvy cooks in dip and baked pasta recipes. 

Cheese, Glorious Cheese- When you snack well it feels satisfying, not hunger-inducing.  An ounce of cheese can get you through to dinner and if you are not serving something with calcium it’s the perfect pre-dinner appetizer or elegant dessert with fruit. At about 100-140 calories per ounce it competes with most energy bars.

Chocolate milk—Com’n, you know you like it.  You can grab one on the go or whip one up at home.  If you are making chocolate milk at home, add a drop of real vanilla extract to enhance the deep chocolate flavor and reduce the amount of sugar needed.

Nuts- One ounce of nuts goes farther than you’d think to curb your appetite and add calcium.   Almonds 75 mg calcium, 1 ounce = 22 nuts, brazilnuts 45 mg calcium, 1 ounce = 6 nuts. Pistachios 31 mg calcium, 1 ounce = 49 nuts, walnuts 28 mg calcium, 1 ounce = 14 nuts.

White beans- two ounces contributes 20 mg calcium.  Mash beans up with a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil and dried rosemary, salt and pepper to taste.  Celery, carrots, steamed green beans, asparagus, and cauliflower are all calcium-contributing dippers.

Edamame (soy beans) 1 cup =261 mg

Many vegetables are a surprising source of calcium.  Half cup of cabbage or bok choy provides 190 mg calcium, broccoli 33 and okra 65 each.  A cup of cooked spinach provides 250 mg calcium and collard greens are at close second at 226 mg per cup serving. 

Go Au Gratin: One ounce of grated Parmesan has 110 calories and a whopping 313 mg calcium.  Cheese and broccoli casserole is suddenly more meaningful.  Try it with a low-fat version of cheddar and a dusting of grated Parmesan.   See below for a fast and freezable broccoli-cheese-rice casserole.  (Even rice has a respectable amount of calcium.)

Cheesy Broccoli Rice Casserole
Serves 4 as a side

2 cups cooked rice
3 cups steamed broccoli
1/2 cup sliced, steamed celery
6 oz vegetable or chicken broth
1 /4 cup lite mayo
2 T sour cream
1/3 cup each grated mozzarella and cheddar
1/2 cup Parmesan, divided

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚.  Spray a large casserole dish with spray oil.  
  2. In a small bowl, slowly whisk mix broth into mayonnaise and sour cream a bit at a time to form a thick sauce.  
  3. Add grated mozzarella and cheddar and half the Parmesan.  Set aside.
  4. Place rice and vegetables in prepared casserole.  
  5. Pour cheese mixture over and toss to combine.  
  6. Cover and bake 20 minutes until heated through.  
  7. Remove cover, sprinkle on remaining Parmesan cheese and bake another 5 minutes until cheese is melted.

Fish like salmon and sardines load on the calcium.  Three ounces give your between 300 and 350 mg calcium.  Finish fish with a sprinkling of sesame seeds.  12 grams provides 80 mg, calcium.  (Make your favorite tuna recipe with canned salmon to boost mid-day calcium. A three ounce serving of canned salmon packs 234 mg calcium.

Tofu, made from soy beans, is another way to add calcium.  A 4oz serving provides 150 mg calcium.  See if it’s in your favorite veggie burger. 

Not just for baked potatoes, dairy toppings can garnish steamed or roasted vegetables and thick soups.  Choose Greek yogurt, “yogurt cheese” or sour cream.  (To make yogurt cheese, drain a cup of plain yogurt in cheesecloth or a coffee filter for a few hours or overnight over a shallow bowl.)

Puddings made with low fat and skim milk are a lovely treat every once in a while.  Chocolate pudding, vanilla pudding, rice pudding, tapioca can be made from scratch but are also available in low fat versions already prepared.

Yogurt—yes, for dessert.  We use it on fruit crisps instead of ice cream or whipped cream.  Try the plain, whole milk type (some brands have cream on top).  It is the perfect foil to sweet crisps. 

Close out a meal with a cheese and fruit platter or serve as a side to a soup meal.  Add some calcium-rich nuts like almonds to the platter too.  Keep cheese plates simple and portions in control.  An ounce of cheese is usually equivalent to the size of 3 dice.

The Cheese Plate  (calcium in one ounce)
Cheese          Calcium     Calories
Gouda              196           100
Fontina            154           109
Brie                   51             94
Cheddar          202            113
Goat Cheese      83           102
Swiss               221           106
Roquefort        185           103
Feta                 138             74

*Calcium content noted sourced from

Vitamin D
Your body requires a supply of Vitamin D to help your system absorb and regulate calcium.  There are not many sources (fatty fish, meat and eggs).  One source is sunlight and it only takes 10-15 outdoors daily with face and arms exposed (no sunscreen) to obtain your fill. (A daily walk outside is another important bone strengthener.) Those who live in colder climates or who cannot be without sunscreen for that length of time can also get Vitamin D via fortified foods.