Natural Foods Merchandiser

Secret Shopper: How safe are calcium supplements?

How well do natural products store employees respond to customer questions on calcium pills? Todd Runestad fact checks their answers.

The question: Are calcium supplements safe to take? Can you recommend one?

Store:  Family-owned natural foods store in the Midwest

STORE:  Let me show you what we have. These are our best sellers (indicates two separate brands), and at your age, for this one (indicates the first), you’ll just want to take two a day—one with breakfast and one with dinner—because you can’t absorb more than 500 mg a day. The other is a capsule, so you’ll need to take more because more is compressed into a tablet.

NFM: So is that the only difference between tablets and capsules?

STORE:  If it’s a quality company, then yes. Some people can’t swallow tablets, so they do capsules. Other people struggle with capsules, so they do liquids. We even have chewables.

Comment: Todd Runestad, supplements swami and editor-in-chief of Functional Ingredients magazine and the New Hope Supply Network

Clearly, the retailer doesn’t know about calcium or bone health from a health perspective. I would take the customer to a reference book and open the pages and help the customer find some answers—together. That would be quite a bonding moment, wouldn’t it? That’s exactly the kind of action that’s supposed to separate a natural store from a conventional store.

That said, here’s my soapbox for bone health in general and calcium specifically: Bones are actually living organs—they grow, they degrade, and their health is contingent upon weight-bearing exercises and nutrition. I always like to mention that the biggest determinant of whether a post-menopausal woman gets osteoporosis is her bone-mineral density as an adolescent.Notice I said “bone-health supplements” and not just calcium. That’s because bones aren’t all calcium; they’re actually a matrix of minerals and proteins.


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