A diet packed with fruits, vegetables, nuts, and beneficial fats is the best way to get the nutrients and antioxidants your body needs to stay healthy, but there’s at least one crucial mineral you may not be getting enough of. Everyone need at least 1,000 mg of calcium per day, but women, especially after 50, benefit from more. However, most Americans get only 600 mg daily.
Calcium’s main role is in building strong teeth and bones and preventing bone loss. It is also an important component of the chemical reactions that regulate proper neurotransmitter release and the contraction of the heart and other muscles. Recently, calcium has been tentatively linked to lower body weight, reduced PMS symptoms, and colorectal cancer prevention.
Although it’s possible to get adequate calcium from the food you eat, it’s difficult for many people to do so. Dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese are by far the best sources of calcium, but lactose intolerance or dietary choices make them an imperfect way for some to get their daily dose of the mineral. It’s true that many fruits, vegetables, and some fish contain calcium; the problem is, the amounts of calcium in these foods is so low, you would have to eat a huge amount every day to get to 1,000 mg.
A cup of milk or 1.5 oz serving of cheddar cheese has about 300 mg of calcium, and yogurt contains around 400 mg. In contrast, a 1/2 cup serving of a relatively high calcium non-dairy food like tofu (made with calcium carbonate) or cooked spinach has just 138 mg or 120 mg respectively. Most common fruits and vegetables have even less. Half a cup of broccoli will give you 36 mg and a tangerine provides only 12 mg. With totals like that, unless you love yogurt, there’s a good chance you aren’t meeting your calcium goals.
Many foods today come fortified with extra calcium. Cereals, snack bars, and even orange juice are often pumped up with as much calcium as milk or cheese. If you read nutritional labels carefully, fortified foods can be a great way to get to 1,000 mg. For many people, calcium supplements are the most convenient option. There are many formulations on the market in from huge pills to soft chews. The most important things to keep in mind when choosing a calcium supplement is to find one that has the dosage you need, doesn’t irritate your stomach, and comes in a form that you’ll be comfortable taking regularly.
Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption, but it’s only present in a few foods like liver and sardines. If you drink vitamin D fortified milk or take a multivitamin, you probably get enough. If not, look for a calcium supplement with vitamin D included. It’s also important to know your body absorbs calcium best if it’s taken with food and spread out in doses of 500 mg or less at a time.
Calcium is a critical mineral that helps power your body and acts as an insurance policy for your bones, but even otherwise healthy diets can be very deficient. If you care about the health of your bones, you need to get serious about your calcium intake. Do the math for the food you’re eating, and if like most people, you discover you aren’t getting your 1,000 mg, find a supplement or fortified food option that works for you.