To keep bones strong, your body is constantly breaking down old bone cells and growing new ones, the same way it sheds and replaces skin cells. To fuel bone growth, keep bone density strong, and prevent osteoporosis, you need a good supply of calcium from dairy products and other foods.
But you also need enough vitamin D. Without it, you could drink milk all day and the calcium in it wouldn't do you much good. Vitamin D is key in absorbing calcium from the food you eat -- calcium that would otherwise get sent out of the body as waste.
Along with weight-bearing exercise, calcium and vitamin D go together for good bone density -- and good health in general. Here's some advice on how to get more calcium and vitamin D in your diet.
Boost Your Diet
Your body doesn't make calcium on its own. The best way to get more calcium is to improve your diet. You already know that dairy products -- such as milk, cheese, and yogurt -- are good sources of calcium for those who don't have lactose or other dairy intolerance. Other foods that are high in calcium include:
- Soy beans
- White beans
- Some fish, like sardines, salmon, perch, and rainbow trout
- Foods that are calcium fortified, such as some orange juice, oatmeal, and breakfast cereal
It's a lot harder to get enough vitamin D from foods. Vitamin D is only in a few foods and often in very small amounts. Foods that provide vitamin D include:
- Fatty fish, like tuna, mackerel, and salmon
- Foods fortified with vitamin D, like some dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, and cereals
- Beef liver
- Egg yolks
Getting enough vitamin D from your diet isn't easy. Studies show that typically only about 20% of our vitamin D comes from the foods we eat.
Your body can make vitamin D on its own. When you walk out into the sunlight with exposed skin, your body naturally produces vitamin D.
How to Get Enough
How much calcium and vitamin D do you need? The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has released the following guidelines:
- Young children 1-3 years old should get 700 milligrams (mg) per day.
- Children 4-8 years old should get 1,000 mg per day.
- Children 9-18 years old should get 1,300 mg of calcium a day.
- Women younger than 51 and men up to age 70 should get 1,000 mg per day.
- Women 51 to 70 should get 1,200 mg/day.
- Women and men 71 and over should get 1,200 mg per day.
How does this translate into your daily diet? A 45-year-old could easily get her recommended daily 1,000 mg of calcium by eating:
- 1 packet of fortified oatmeal (100 mg)
- 1 cup of skim milk (305 mg)
- 8 ounces of non-fat yogurt (452 mg)
- ½ cup of spinach (146 mg)