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Published: Sunday June 30, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday June 30, 2013 MYT 11:17:33 AM

Boost your calcium intake

One way of increasing bone mineral density, especially in postmenopausal women, is to consume calcium-rich food such as tempeh.

BESIDES the usual milk and dairy products, consumers now have another food alternative when it comes to meeting their calcium intake.

The local traditional delicacy — tempeh — has been identified as an alternative source for calcium.

Tempeh provides calcium and isoflavones for postmenopausal women at risk of low bone mass, said a study conducted by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) Faculty of Health Sciences, in collaboration with Universiti Putra Malaysia and Cornell University, the United States.

“We may have found a possible solution to the high incidence of osteoporosis amongst Asian women in their postmenopausal stage,” said UKM researcher Assoc Prof Dr Hasnah Haron.

Addressing the problem

In a presentation by the research team, dietary studies in Malaysia over the past decade were shown to have consistent reports of calcium intakes below 500mg per day, and only 200-300mg per day amongst elderly women in rural areas.

Other referenced studies showed that the life expectancy at birth for Malaysian females has increased from 66 to 76 years, between 1980 to 2005 (Department of Statistics 2005).

“Women in this demographic typically consume a daily average of only 30% to 60% of the Malaysian Recommended Nutrient Intake, which is 1,000mg of calcium a day.

Over 200 women, between the ages of 55 and 65, were screened for the study.

“During test subject screening, we found that about two-thirds of all menopausal women have low bone density.

“One effective strategy to increase bone mineral density is to improve the dietary intake of calcium-rich food products,” said Dr Hasnah.

The study compared the bioavailability of calcium and isoflavones between milk and tempeh.

“We prepared tempeh which is a traditional fermented soybean product that is a non-dairy, calcium-rich food source,” said UKM Faculty of Health Sciences deputy dean (Research & Innovation) Prof Dr Suzana Shahar.

The research team explained the three phases of their study that begun in the year 2006.

Through a clinical trial, the team found that the calcium absorption from tempeh was slightly higher than milk but the difference was considered to be statistically negligible.

“We cannot say that the calcium absorption in tempeh is higher than milk, but is comparable to milk,” she added.

The team also said that due to the differences in calcium content, four servings of tempeh would be needed to get the same amount of absorbed calcium as that obtained from a four-ounce (114 ml) glass of milk.

“Besides being a good source of calcium, tempeh also contains a strong antioxidant called isoflavone, which is also found in most soy products.

“Isoflavone has an estrogenic effect that helps to reduce postmenopausal symptoms like hot flushes,” said Dr Hasnah.

According to a few studies in Japan, said Prof Suzana, the intake of soy-based food is shown to be inversely correlated with heart disease and various types of cancer.

Supplementary choice

The research team said that calcium-fortified tempeh could be the answer to the population’s low calcium intake.

“We hope that this study will encourage new food products in Malaysia.

“Malaysian tempeh products can increase the bioavailability of calcium, without side-effects, for post-menopausal women who are osteopenic or osteo-porotic,” said Prof Suzana.

The team cautioned that tempeh is not meant to be a replacement but is supplementary to other foods that are high in calcium like milk, fish and certain vegetables.

“Just remember that steaming is better than frying when preparing tempeh as it reduces the calories consumed,” added Prof Suzana.

Published studies from the research team were awarded the Pameran Reka Cipta, Penyelidikan dan Inovasi 2009 bronze medal and the Nutrition Society of Malaysia Publication Prize 2013.

Tags / Keywords: Education, tempeh, tempe, food, health sciences, UKM, calcium, biomedical, research, trial study

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