What Is Calcium?
Reviewed by Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN
Calcium is perhaps the most essential nutrient when it comes to bone health. Building strong bones is like building a healthy balance in your “calcium bank account.” Bones are living tissue and constantly in a state of turnover, making calcium deposits and withdrawals daily. Bones don’t come with a lifetime guarantee. They need continuous maintenance or they can weaken and break. If your diet is low in calcium, your body will take calcium from your bones to keep blood calcium at normal levels.
For a lifetime of healthy bones:
Consume three servings of low-fat or fat-free milk or other calcium-rich foods every day.
Eat and drink calcium-fortified foods and beverages, if you don’t or can’t consume milk.
Follow an overall healthy eating plan using the MyPlate Food Guidance system (www.choosemyplate.gov).
Be physically active with weight-bearing exercise such as running, dancing or weight training.
Focus on Food First
Registered dietitian nutritionists recommend food as the primary source of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, such as calcium.
When shopping, read food labels and select foods that contain 10 percent or more of the Daily Value for calcium. Foods high in calcium or fortified with calcium may be labeled as “calcium-rich” or “excellent source of calcium.”
Try these calcium-boosting tips:
Drink an 8-ounce glass of milk or calcium-fortified beverage with your meal. Fat-free and low-fat milk have the same amount of calcium as whole milk.
Make oatmeal with milk or a calcium-fortified beverage instead of water.
Eat 1 cup of low-fat or fat-free yogurt with fruit for breakfast or a snack.
Top a baked potato with ½ cup steamed broccoli and ¼ cup shredded low-fat or fat-free cheese.
Add ½ cup cooked calcium-rich greens (collard greens, turnip greens, kale) to meals.
Enjoy ½ cup cooked soybeans or 5 dried figs for a snack.
Make a breakfast shake by blending milk or calcium-fortified beverage with fruit and greens.
Enjoy calcium-fortified tofu as a plant-based protein option.
Are All Sources of Calcium Absorbed Efficiently?
Calcium is absorbed best if your intake of calcium-rich foods is spread out during the day. A registered dietitian nutritionist can help you choose foods or a combination of foods and a supplement to meet your individual calcium needs, while keeping in mind calcium intake should not exceed 2,500 milligrams per day.
More Tips for Bone Health
Do some weight-bearing activities daily. The pushing and pulling muscles do against bones makes them stronger.
Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol intake.
Ask your physician if you need a bone density test based on your risk factors for osteoporosis or if you are a woman over 50.
Read food labels and look for foods and beverages that provide calcium.
If you need a calcium supplement, choose one that contains vitamin D, which will aid in the calcium’s absorption.
See a registered dietitian nutritionist for individual guidance and recommendations.