Say yes to calcium

Because nutrition is a science, it is always being researched. Sometimes the findings can be confusing -- do calcium supplements increase the risk of heart disease? Research findings over the past few years have gone back and forth. 

Last October, a widely reported study in the Journal of the American Heart Association once again suggested there's a link between the supplements and heart disease. But then, in December, new guidelines from the National Osteoporosis Foundation and the American Society for Preventive Cardiology concluded that calcium wasn't anything to worry about when it came to heart disease. 

More research and the University of California Berkeley Wellness Letter have cleared up the confusion. 

While earlier studies have suggested that calcium supplements could increase the risk of heart attacks, other studies have shown mostly reassuring results about the safety of calcium supplements. Some have even linked calcium (from food or supplements) to lower coronary risk. 

One long-term concern has been that calcium from food and supplements could build up in coronary arteries and contribute to atherosclerosis. But in recent years, several studies found no such association. 

The new guidelines from the two groups seem to settle the issue, according to the Berkeley article. After a systematic analysis found that calcium from food or supplements -- up to 2,500 mg a day, which is more than double the recommended intake amount -- is not associated with coronary risk in healthy people. And the analysis found there is no established biological mechanism linking calcium intake to cardiovascular disease. 

As always, the study concluded that obtaining calcium from food sources is preferred but they found supplemental calcium can be safely used to correct any shortfalls in intake. They went on to say that discontinuing calcium supplements may actually be harmful to bone health when intake from food isn't enough to meet recommended amounts. 

The bottom line? It's always best to get nutrients, including calcium, from food because foods naturally rich in calcium supply many other nutrients important for bones and general health. In addition, high doses of calcium supplements can increase the risk of kidney stones in some people, while foods high in calcium (such as dairy products) protect against stones. 

High calcium foods include low fat milk and yogurt, cheese, dark leafy greens, bok choy, fortified tofu and orange juice, okra, broccoli, green beans, almonds and fish canned with their bones. 

If you don't get the recommended 1,000 to 1,200 mg of calcium a day from your diet alone, you may need take a supplement -- and that's not going to hurt your heart. 

Q and A 

 Q: Does roasting vegetables at high temperatures, such as 425 degrees, destroy nutrients in the vegetables? 

A: The caramelization that occurs during the roasting process can enhance the flavor of vegetables and increase enjoyment of them. However, roasting vegetables has some nutritional tradeoffs. Cooking vegetables increases the availability of some nutrients, such as beta-carotene and lycopene, by breaking down plant foods' cell walls. At the same time, roasting vegetables can reduce levels of heat-sensitive nutrients, such as vitamin C and folate. Nutrient loss with heat is not unique to roasting. Other forms of cooking can also reduce heat-sensitive nutrients, and cooking methods that use water, such as boiling, result in nutrient losses from water-soluble nutrients leaching into the water. Consider varying preparation methods, such as eating raw vegetables and salads as well as roasted, steamed or sauteed vegetables. --Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter. 

RECIPE 

Who doesn't love a great shrimp taco? Here's a recipe from Cooking Light that pairs shrimp and black beans (to boost fiber) and also has an added bonus of 138 mg of calcium. 

Shrimp and Black Bean Tacos 

2 teaspoon canola oil 

3/4 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined 

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin, divided 

1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper 

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, no salt added 

1/2 teaspoon chili powder 

8 (6-inch) corn tortillas 

1 cup hot cooked brown rice 

1/2 cup fresh pico de gallo 

1/4 cup sliced green onions 

1 ripe avocado, thinly sliced 

Fresh cilantro leaves 

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high. Add shrimp, 1 teaspoon cumin and pepper; cook 5 minutes or until done, stirring occasionally. Remove shrimp from pan. Drain beans in a colander over a bowl, reserving 2 tablespoons liquid. Add beans, reserved liquid, 1/2 teaspoon cumin, and chili powder to pan; cook 3 minutes, mashing beans with a fork. Working with 1 tortilla at a time, heat tortillas over medium-high directly on the eye of a burner 15 seconds on each side. Divide bean mixture, rice, shrimp, pico, onions and avocado evenly among tortillas. Garnish with cilantro; serve immediately. Serves 4 (serving size: 2 tacos). 

Per serving: 408 calories, 22 g protein, 62 g carbohydrate, 22 g fat, 107 mg cholesterol, 11 g fiber, 323 mg sodium, 138 mg calcium. 

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Ill., and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at charfarg@aol.com or follow her on Twitter @Nutrition Rd. 

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