Most people know that calcium intake is important for building strong bones and some people may even know the roles of calcium outside of bone health, such as muscle contraction. Yet, most people have inadequate intake of this mineral.
Adults need about 1000-1200 mg of calcium per day depending on age and gender. The easiest way to hit this calcium requirement is with dairy products. 1 cup of milk, ¾ cup yogurt and 50 grams cheese all contain around 300 mg of calcium. This is where the recommendation of 2 milk and alternative servings for adults 19-50 years and 3 servings for adults over 50 years comes from.
However, what about those people who don’t consume dairy products? Is it still possible for them to meet their calcium requirements through food? Yes, but this often requires being consciences of food choices. Milk alternatives such as soy milk and almond milk are fortified with calcium, so 1 cup contains similar amounts of calcium to cow’s milk. Other good non-dairy food sources of calcium include salmon or sardines with the bones in or tofu set in calcium. However, most people are not going to consume these on a daily basis.
Other foods such as broccoli, almonds, white beans or bok choy or commonly cited as being good sources of calcium. However, the calcium in these foods doesn’t have a very good bioavailability, so little calcium is actually absorbed from them. For instance, while ½ cup of almonds contains 200 mg of calcium, only 40 mg of this is actually absorbed. You would have to consume a lot of almonds to get the equivalent amount of calcium found in 1 cup of cow’s milk or milk beverage alternative.
If you aren’t getting enough calcium through food, then you may be tempted to pop a calcium supplement. While it may seem like a simple solution, taking a food first approach is always best. For instance, a calcium supplement is going to be missing out on all the extra nutrients found in dairy products, which contain more calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, phosphorus and protein per calorie than any other food.
I can’t mention calcium without mentioning vitamin D, which helps absorb calcium. Vitamin D is very hard to get through food alone, but can be made by our body from the sun. However, sun rays aren’t strong enough in Canada during the winter to make adequate vitamin D, so supplementation is recommended to meet requirements. Find out more on this by clicking here.
Calcium is an important nutrient for health. Making a deliberate attempt to include calcium rich foods in your diet will not only help build healthy bones but also provide a source of other nutrients that are important for overall health.
To get my free weekly nutrition newsletter straight to your inbox, click here.