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Calcium from the Diet vs. Supplements

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Q. Is it true that calcium from supplements can build up in the arteries, causing heart problems? Would calcium from plant sources do the same thing?

A. The most recent research on this issue comes from Germany. Nearly 24,000 subjects were followed for 11 years. Those who took calcium supplements were more likely to experience heart attacks. Those who got calcium from food, however, seemed to be protected from heart problems(Heart, June, 2012).

Many people like this reader want specific suggestions on food sources of calcium: "For the past year I've been taking 1,500 mg of calcium per day as Tums to try to prevent a stress fracture on the top of my femur from re-opening. I've also recently been diagnosed as having hardening of the arteries around my heart and plaque build-up inside them.

"I've stopped the Tums and am looking for ways to get more calcium in my diet. That's difficult because drinking milk makes me sick.

"Please supplement this story with good dietary sources of calcium other than milk, such as almonds and sardines. No food I've seen approaches the 1,500 mg of calcium I was getting from Tums. Stress fractures hurt so they involve doctors, drugs and large expense."

While dairy foods such as milk and yogurt are traditional rich sources of calcium, there are many others:

• Almonds
• Beans
• Broccoli
• Bok Choy
• Corn Tortillas
• Fortified Orange Juice
• Kale
• Mustard Greens
• Salmon (canned, bone-in)
• Sardines
• Spinach
• Swiss Chard
• Tofu
• Turnip Greens

Experts are starting to rethink the nutrition establishment's recommendation to get 1,200 mg of calcium a day, especially if it comes largely from supplements. Many now think that 800 to 1,000 mg daily from food would be more appropriate.

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I thought the calcium in spinach and Swiss chard (as well as in beet greens) was rendered unavailable by the oxalic acid in those greens.

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