Calcium - Body Weight Connection
How can a mineral
used by the body to build strong bones possibly have a role in weight
control? Even scientists have been scratching their heads in response
to this observation in recent years. But the relationship appears to
be a real one. As early as preschool age, researchers have observed
that higher calcium intakes and more dairy servings/day are associated
with lower body fat. In one study, an extra serving of dairy (approximately
300 milligrams calcium) resulted in 1 kg (2.2 pounds) less body fat
in the children. (1)
Studies with adults
have shown a similar trend (2). A number of studies that were designed
to look at the relationship of calcium and bone health were reanalyzed
to see if calcium affected body weight. In his review of clinical studies,
Heaney found that for every 300 milligram increase in calcium intake,
adults had 2.5 3.0 kg (5.5 6.6 pounds) less body weight.
He concluded that improving the calcium intake of the U.S. population
has the potential to effect a substantial reduction in the prevalence
New research has
shed a light on the possible mechanism by which calcium affects body
weight. Dr. Michael Zemel has done work that indicates that higher dietary
calcium actually results in a lowered calcium within body fat cells,
a change which alters the chemistry of the cell and promotes the breakdown
of fat (3).
Food surveys show that few youngsters take in enough calcium to
realize this weight effect or to maximize their lifetime bone development
(4). At a time when they need calcium the most, kids are choosing soft
drinks and other beverages over dairy products. While recent government
recommendations advise a calcium intake of 1300 milligrams for children
ages 9-18 (800 milligrams for 4-8 year-olds), nutrition surveys show
a decline in calcium intake for this age group, with fewer than half
consuming the recommended amount each day.
Practical Pointers for
With more calcium per ounce than milk, yogurt is also a source
of riboflavin, protein, and other nutrients. Yogurt can substitute for
mayonnaise and sour cream in salad dressings, vegetable dips, tartar
sauce, and fruit salads. Fresh fruit added to yogurt makes a delicious
topping for pancakes and waffles. Replace milk or other liquids in muffin
and quick-bread recipes with plain non- or low-fat yogurt.
Milk Many Ways
The same child who shuns a glass of milk with a meal may enjoy
his favorite cereal with milk. Other foods made from milk include puddings,
tomato and other cream-based soups, macaroni and cheese, hot chocolate,
flavored milk, mashed potatoes, pancakes and decaffeinated espresso
drinks made with steamed milk.
Children who follow a strict vegetarian diet or suffer from lactose
intolerance or milk allergy will find it difficult to reach recommended
calcium levels without dairy products. Good nondairy sources include
calcium-fortified soy or rice beverages, calcium-set tofu, calcium-fortified
fruit juices, broccoli, bok choy, sardines, almonds and calcium-fortified
It's not a good idea to rely on supplements alone to cover your
calcium needs. Overuse of supplements can pose a danger to children.
To be safe, aim for a total calcium intake (including that from food
and supplements) that is within the recommended range for your child's
1. Carruth BR, Skinner JD. The role of dietary calcium and other
nutrients in moderating body fat in preschool children. Int J Obes 2001
2. Heaney RP,
Davies KM, Barger-Lux MJ. Calcium and weight: clinical studies. J Am
Coll Nutr 2002 APR;21(2):152S-155S.
3. Zemel M. Regulation
of adiposity and obesity risk by dietary calcium: mechanisms and implications.
J Am Coll Nutr 2002 APR;21(2):146S-151S.
4. CSFII 1994-96,
1998 Data Set. Table set 17 (Food and Nutrient Intakes by Children 1994-96,
1998) Web site: http://www.barc.usda.gov/bhnrc/foodsurvey/,