Did the Dairy Council set the RDA for calcium?

Monday, October 5, 2009 15:34
Comments Off on Did the Dairy Council set the RDA for calcium?

Q. The RDA for calcium seems impossible to achieve unless someone eats dairy (or takes supplements), but considering that dairy has been part of the human diet for only a short period of time (and most people are lactose intolerant), how can our requirements really be that high? Is there scientific evidence that we need that much calcium or has the Dairy Council had a hand in the government's guidelines?

A. You mean, was there a conspiracy to get Americans to consume more dairy products by setting the recommendations for calcium intake higher than necessary? I wouldn't go that far (although I'm sure some would!).

The RDA for calcium reflects the realities of the typical Western diet

The RDA for calcium represents the amount that will meet the needs of most (97%) healthy individuals. They're taking into account not only the amount needed to prevent acute calcium deficiency but also to prevent long-term consequences like osteoporosis.

This is based on scientific research, of course. But most of that research is done on people who eat a typical Western diet–which is relatively high in both protein and sodium. Coffee and soft drinks (containing caffeine and phosphates) are frequently consumed.  All of these things can increase the body's calcium requirements.

The RDA for calcium reflects how much calcium it takes for someone with a typical Western diet to maintain adequate calcium stores.  Those on a lower protein or lower sodium diet might require less.

Non-dairy sources of calcium

Not only are dairy products some of the richest sources of dietary calcium, but the calcium in dairy is well absorbed by the body. But if you're not into dairy, canned salmon and sardines are great non-dairy sources. Tiny bones in the fish–so soft that they're simply consumed with the flesh–are what makes these fish good calcium sources.  Kale and collard greens are also good sources. A cup of collards has as much calcium as a cup of milk.

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