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Feed Your Calcium Cravings
By Courtenay Schurman, CSCS
Developed for Dance Spirit Magazine, February 2002 issue
Keep bone fractures at bay with 3 calcium servings a day
“Adolescent girls and adults can consume at least 1400 mg of calcium per day mainly through dairy foods without negatively impacting weight gain or percent body fat…while enhancing the nutritional quality of their diets.” –Gregory D. Miller, PhD, FACN*
According to USDA statistics*, 8 of 10 teenage girls and 6 of 10 teenage boys do not get enough calcium. That statistic is worse for teenage dancers, especially as they prepare for auditions. In their hopes of being as svelte as possible, some dancers may reduce their caloric intake, along with consumption of vital vitamins and minerals, including calcium. They can potentially cause drastic long-term consequences. Ninety-nine percent of the calcium in the body is found in the bones and teeth; the other one percent circulating throughout the body is required for normal functions such as muscle contractions and blood clotting. In his book, Optimum Sports Nutrition, Michael Colgan states that the small amount of calcium in your blood remains constant; any calcium not supplied to the blood by your diet on a daily basis is “cannibalized from [the body’s] own skeleton to make up the deficit.” This means that if you neglect your calcium intake on a regular basis, you run a greater risk of suffering from stress fractures during your dance career, and osteoporosis when you are older.
Am I At High Risk For Bone Problems?
If women in your family suffer from osteoporosis, if you smoke or consume excessive amounts of caffeine, if you experience amenorrhea (a loss of your period), or if you are naturally petite, you may be at high risk for having low bone mass. Regular exercise and strength training will help increase the density of your bones. However, while bones benefit from the protective effect of dancing, exercise will not totally compensate for a lack of dietary calcium.
If you notice that you have brittle nails, early signs of tooth decay, or aching joints, you may be deficient in calcium. During dance tryouts, it might be natural to experience muscle cramps from exertion, or insomnia from nervous jitters—yet these are both additional signs of potential calcium deficiency. To help determine whether the stresses of the season are masking some of your symptoms, simply ask yourself: Do I eat 3 servings of dairy products daily? If not, you may be at risk for future bone problems.
What Are The Best Sources Of Calcium?
By consuming 300 calories worth of calcium-rich foods daily, such as yogurt, skim milk, broccoli or pudding, you can supply your teeth and bones with the 1200 milligrams of calcium needed to help prevent stress fractures today and osteoporosis in the future. Dairy products are the best sources of calcium and of the many other important vitamins and minerals crucial for bone health, such as phosphorous and vitamin D.
If you are lactose intolerant or vegan, you may want to include lactose-reduced dairy products, non-dairy foods such as calcium-rich tofu, calcium-fortified orange juice, broccoli and other leafy greens, or even a supplement containing calcium carbonate or calcium phosphate, both of which are forms of calcium that are easily used by the body. A Registered Dietician can provide more specific guidance. Note that you may have to eat much larger servings of some food sources (such as spinach or bok choy) in order to get the equivalent amount of calcium supplied in an eight ounce serving of skim milk.
The Last “Meal” Of The Day: A Glass Of Milk
In order to allow your body to optimally absorb and use the calcium you consume, do not eat dairy products with high-fiber foods (such as bread) or iron-rich foods (like spinach). Spread out your calcium consumption over the course of the day, with no more than 500 mg at any one meal. Use molasses as a sweetener (137 mg calcium/tsp.) whenever possible; other sweeteners provide only empty calories. Finally, to calm those nerves the night before your tryout, drink some milk. Not only will it help you get to sleep, but researchers also suggest that the best time to consume calcium is right before bed.
Eat 3 servings of these low-fat calcium-rich foods daily for long-term bone health **
* USDA stat in Perspectives in Nutrition (4th Edition) p. 486-7; "Calcium: an underconsumed essential mineral." Expert opinion provided by Gregory D. Miller, PhD, FACN.
**Chart compiled using Bowes and Church’s [Ital: Food Values of Portions Commonly Used: 15th edition], ed. Jean A.T. Pennington