Calcium is a mineral that helps strengthen your bones. If you do not get enough calcium in your diet or with calcium supplements, your body will take what it needs from your bones, causing them to become weak, brittle or soft. If left unchecked, a lack of calcium may lead to rickets or osteoporosis. Adults under 50 need 1,000 mg of calcium per day; if you are over 50, you need 1,200 mg daily. Eating foods high in calcium, avoiding foods that inhibit absorption and making sure you get enough vitamin D will all help you keep your levels of calcium where they need to be for good bone health.
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Boost Your Calcium Intake
Your body can more easily absorb the calcium from foods than from supplements. Eat foods high in calcium every day. Drink low-fat or fat-free milk to boost your calcium consumption without adding too much fat to your diet. Other dairy products that contain calcium are yogurt and cheese; again, choose varieties that are low in fat. Eat more leafy greens, especially kale, collard greens and dark green lettuce, and green herbs such as basil, parsley and dill. Sardines and salmon are good sources of calcium, as are oats and black, pinto and kidney beans.
Foods to Avoid
Some foods can inhibit the absorption of calcium. Chocolate contains oxalates, which bind to calcium and can both prevent absorption and put you at risk for developing kidney stones. Other foods high in oxalates include berries, grapes, sweet potatoes and eggplant. If you are deficient in calcium, talk to your doctor about the amount of oxalate-containing foods that you eat. Also avoid drinking alcohol, which can inhibit calcium absorption, according to MayoClinic.com.
Get Enough Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps you absorb calcium. Not getting enough vitamin D can put children at risk of developing rickets due to insufficient calcium levels. One natural way to boost your vitamin D levels is to spend 15 minutes each day in the sun. You should not exceed this amount, because you may then put yourself at risk for developing skin cancer. If you live in a climate where you cannot expose yourself to the sun most days, ask your doctor about whether a vitamin D supplement is right for you. You can also get vitamin D from drinking fortified milk and eating fortified dairy products. Other nutrients that help you absorb calcium include vitamin K, boron and magnesium. Talk to your doctor before adding supplements to your diet.
You should not make drastic changes to your diet or take any supplements without speaking to your doctor first. Since some medications can prevent calcium absorption, talk to your doctor if you are taking any prescription medications, especially cholesterol-lowering medications, estrogen, blood pressure medications and anti-seizure drugs. In other cases, calcium may interact with medications.
- MayoClinic.com; Chocolate: Does it Impair Calcium Absorption?; Katherine Zeratsky, R.D.; March 2010
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Possible Interactions With Calcium
- Medline Plus: Vitamin D
- Spine-Health; 10 Ways to Get Enough Calcium if You're Lactose Intolerant; Sylvia Marten; May 2008
- HelpGuide.org; Calcium & Your Bones; Maya Paul, et al.
- Drugs.com: Low Oxalate Diet