It’s a heavy hitter among minerals. Calcium keeps your bones strong—and helps you avoid the debilitating consequences of osteoporosis, or porous bones. It also plays an important part in how your body functions, affecting hormones, muscles, nerves and your heartbeat.
Since your body doesn’t manufacture calcium, it’s important to take in the mineral from your diet. Unfortunately, many of us don’t get enough calcium. That takes a toll on the body, causing calcium to be leeched from bones, leaving them weaker and more prone to fracture.
The National Academy of Sciences recommends a daily intake of 1,200 milligrams (mg) of calcium for adults over 50. By splitting your daily intake into several smaller doses (500 mg or less) a day, your body will absorb calcium more efficiently. Getting enough vitamin D helps, too. Adults ages 51 to 70 need 10 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin D a day. People over 70 need 15 mcg a day. Some medications may interfere with calcium absorption, so ask your doctor how much calcium you need.
The calcium-rich food sources in the box below can help you augment your meal plans. Refer to nutrition labels for exact amounts of calcium per serving.
If you’re one of the many Americans who experiences bloating, gas and diarrhea from consuming dairy products, you can still get your calcium. Consider these options:
- Try lactase enzymes, which help you digest the milk sugar that can cause digestive problems. Look for pills or dairy products with lactase enzymes added.
- Cook up more nondairy sources of calcium. Include kale and collard greens, canned salmon with bones, tofu, almonds and dried beans.
- Take calcium supplements as the label directs; some work best when taken with a meal.
- Enjoy calcium-fortified foods, such as orange and cranberry juices, waffles, breads, hot and cold cereals, soy and rice milk or hot cocoa mixes.