How to hit the mark: Help yourself to three servings a day of low-fat milk and other dairy products. Other good dietary sources of calcium include kale and broccoli, as well as juices fortified with calcium. Calcium-rich foods are by far that best choice, says Robert Heaney, MD, a Creighton University professor of medicine and an expert on calcium and vitamin D. "The body needs both calcium and protein for bone health," says Heaney. "So the ideal source of calcium is dairy products, not supplements." If you tend to steer clear of dairy products, talk to your doctor about whether you should take a supplement.
Joanne Koenig Coste, a former caregiver who works with older people, says that smoothies made with yogurt, fruit, and even vegetables can be an attractive option for people who have lost their appetite, have trouble chewing, or have a dry mouth. "I used to make one for my mother with spinach, yogurt, a little orange juice, and a little pistachio ice cream," she says. "My mother loved it. I'd divide it into small portions and freeze them for her. She'd take it out in the morning and have it for lunch." Another favorite: a smoothie of vanilla yogurt, a little molasses and maple syrup, and a small scoop of vanilla ice cream.
"Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, maintain bone density, and prevent osteoporosis," says Zelman. Recent findings suggest that D may also protect against some chronic diseases, including cancer, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and autoimmune diseases. In older people, vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to increased risk of falling. Many Americans fall short on vitamin D, which is mainly produced by the skin when exposed to sunlight.
How to hit the mark: Many foods are fortified with vitamin D, including cereals, milk, some yogurts, and juices. Few foods naturally contain vitamin D. However, vitamin D is found in salmon, tuna, and eggs. Researchers are currently debating what the recommended level of vitamin D for optimal health should be. Many experts think older people need to take vitamin D supplements, since the skin becomes less efficient at producing the vitamin from sunlight as we age. For now, the best advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.