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Milk for Your Bones?

Is Milk Best?

Too Little, Too Late? continued...

Whether or not you get your calcium from dairy products, both sides of the debate agree that calcium is good no matter how it's delivered. "If you have an inclination to avoid dairy and get your calcium elsewhere, you certainly can," says Joan McGowan, PhD, director of the musculoskeletal diseases branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The growing popularity of calcium-fortified foods makes it easier than ever to meet your daily quota without dairy. The 300 milligrams of calcium that you'll find in one cup of milk can also be obtained by drinking the same amount of calcium-fortified orange juice or by eating a cup of dried figs or a bowl of Total cereal topped with calcium-enriched soy milk. Toss a half-cup of tofu (the kind made with calcium sulfate) into a stir-fry, and you've added a whopping 434 milligrams of calcium to your day. Other calcium-rich foods include collard greens (226 milligrams per serving), baked beans (127 milligrams), kale (94 milligrams), and broccoli (72 milligrams).

Daily calcium recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences start at 1,300 milligrams for adolescents ages 9 to 18, fall to 1,000 milligrams for adults ages 19 to 50, and, finally, rise again to 1,200 milligrams for people 51 and over.

No Bones About It

Clearly, there is consensus that calcium is necessary for good health -- but no consensus on whether calcium is best when consumed from dairy or other sources. My own decision has been to get my calcium fix in a variety of ways. I still treat myself to a slice of cheese pizza now and again, but I also pour calcium-enriched soy milk on my cereal, drink calcium-fortified orange juice, and load up on dark leafy greens.

When I told my mother I'd cut back on my milk consumption, I might as well have announced that I'd given up oxygen. But she's slowly gotten used to the idea. Now when I visit, instead of slipping me money to buy milk, she opens her denim purse, digs down deep, and hands over a bite-sized, foil-wrapped piece of chocolate -- calcium-enriched, of course.

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