For years, mothers have told us to drink our milk (rich in calcium) because it will keep our bones strong. But did you know calcium plays many roles in the body beyond bone health. Find out what calcium does for you and if you’re getting enough of this valuable mineral.
Mom was right. Calcium helps keep bones healthy. But it also has other benefits:
- Helps the body send and receive nerve signals.
- Helps muscle contraction.
- Helps release hormones.
- Helps the heart beat normally.
- Helps blood clot properly.
As you can see, calcium is a vital mineral that’s used by your entire body—so much so that if you don’t get enough of it, your body will take calcium from your bones to satisfy its needs.
That’s one of the reasons people develop osteoporosis, the bone-thinning disease that increase your risk of fractures. It’s like overdrawing your checkbook. You’re going to have to pay for running a deficit at some point.
How Much Calcium Do You Need?
That depends on your age, gender, and pregnancy status.
- Adults ages 19-50: 1,000 mg/day
- Men ages 50-70: 1,000 mg/day
- Women ages 50-70: 1,200 mg/day
- Everyone ages 71 and older: 1,200 mg/day
Where to Find Calcium
It’s best to get the calcium you need from food, the best sources being dairy products, such as low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheeses.
Other sources of calcium include green leafy vegetables like broccoli, collards, and kale, as well as salmon and sardines canned with their soft bones; almonds, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, and dried beans.
You can also check for foods that have added calcium. These products include orange juice, soy milk, tofu, ready-to-eat cereals, and breads.
Vitamin supplements are another source of calcium—either in a multivitamin or in a calcium or calcium with vitamin D supplement. The National Institutes of Health says to check the label of your supplement because calcium is best absorbed when taken in amounts of no more than 500 mg at a time.
Here are some quick tips from the NIH for working calcium into your diet:
- If you’re making an omelet, include some cheddar cheese.
- Pack a yogurt in your lunch.
- Add white beans to your soup.
- Make an afternoon snack of whole-grain crackers and low-fat cheese.
- Add a slice of cheese to your sandwiches.