Calcium can seem confusing. How much should you get? Where should you get it? What’s about magnesium, vitamin D, and vitamin K? However, once you understand the basics, it’s not that hard to include it in your diet and get the calcium you need.
Essential Building Block
Calcium is a key nutrient for your body to stay strong and healthy. It is an essential building block for lifelong bone health, among many other important functions. While the amount you need depends on various factors, everyone can benefit from eating calcium-rich foods and getting enough magnesium and vitamins D and K-nutrients that help calcium do its job.
Dietary Calcium Is Key!
Your body gets the calcium it needs in one of two ways. The first and best way is through the foods you eat or the supplements you take. However, if you’re not consuming enough calcium, your body will get it by pulling it from your bones where it’s stored. That is why diet is key!
Getting enough calcium in your diet is particularly important when you’re under the age of 30 and still building bone mass. Making smart choices now will help you avoid serious bone loss later in life. No matter your age, you can take steps to protect your bones and put the brakes on osteoporosis. Osteoporosis means “porous bone.” It is a “silent” disease characterized by loss of bone mass.
Men are also at risk of developing osteoporosis, but typically 5 to 10 years later than women. If you’re age 50 or older and have broken a bone, talk to your healthcare provider and ask if you should have a bone density test.
Fortunately, osteoporosis is preventable for most people, and getting enough calcium in your diet is the first place to start. Your body is able to absorb more calcium from food than it can from supplements. Additionally, calcium from food often comes with other beneficial nutrients that help calcium do its job.
Ways to add more calcium to your diet:
Good food sources of calcium include dairy sources, vegetables and greens, beans, herbs and spices, and calcium-fortified foods.
- Use milk when making hot breakfast cereals, soups, sauces and other foods.
- Get creative with plain yogurt. Use it to make a dressing or a dip, try it on potatoes or add to a fruit smoothie.
- Enjoy a piece of cheese as a snack. Try a type of cheese you have never had before.
- Add greens, herbs and spicesto soups, casseroles, or stir-fries.The traditional soul food favorites, collard, mustard, and turnip greens, offer a lot of calcium. Who would have thought that adding dried herbs to your dishes would increase your calcium intake? Spice up dishes with basil, dill, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, savory, tarragon, and thyme to add more nutrients.
- Eat dark green leafy salads. Try arugula, butter lettuce, kale, mesclun, red leaf, romaine hearts, or watercress.
- Add extra servings of veggies to your meals, such as bok choy, Chinese cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green beans, and squash.
- Include fruit such as currants, raisins, oranges, blackberries, figs, kiwi, raspberries, cherries, and strawberries in your daily diet.
- Consume seafood, such as oysters, soft-shell crabs, and fish containing bones (canned salmon, sardines, anchovies).
- Use beans/legumes as part of your meals. Kinds to try: black beans, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, navy beans, pinto beans, tofu, tempeh, and other dried beans. Snack on edamame and hummus.
- Add more whole grains to your meals and snacks. The grains highest in calcium are amaranth, quinoa, oats, barley, rye, and whole wheat.
- Snack on nuts and seeds such as almonds, Brazil nuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, sesame seeds or sunflower seeds.
- Drink green tea, as well as herbal teas and infusions.
When you eat a diet rich in whole foods—vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds—not only do you get a wonderful variety of tastes on your plate, but you also give your body the different nutrients, including calcium, that it needs.
Other Key Nutrients
When it comes to your bones, calcium alone is not enough. There are a number of other vital nutrients that help your body absorb and make use of the calcium you consume. The most important of these are magnesium, vitamin D, and vitamin K.
Magnesium works closely with calcium to build and strengthen bones and prevent osteoporosis. Since your body is not good at storing magnesium, it is vital to make sure you get enough of it in your diet. Magnesium is found in nuts, seeds, whole grains, seafood, legumes, tofu, and many vegetables.
Vitamin D is another critical nutrient that helps the body absorb calcium and regulates calcium in the blood. Good food sources include fortified milk, fortified cereal, eggs, cheese, butter, margarine, cream, fish, shrimp, and oysters.
Vitamin K helps the body regulate calcium and form strong bones. Vitamin K is found in leafy greens; vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage; fish, liver, meat, eggs, and cereals.
Making sure you are getting the necessary amount of calcium is the first step to strong and healthy bones. The sooner you start to do this, the less likely it will be for you to face health problems such as osteoporosis later in life. Consuming the calcium-rich foods will give your body added benefits to make it a win-win situation.