Recent news headlines like "More Calcium Doesn't Mean Stronger Bones" may make the mineral seem passe, but don't give up on this crucial bone builder just yet. You still need it, but you don't have to chugalug four glasses of milk a day -- or even one -- to get it.
By the way, most of us don't have to worry about the megadoses of calcium that, like megadoses of anything, have come under fire (in this case, for increasing your risk of heart attacks and, ironically, bone fractures). In fact, it's still a good bet that you aren't getting enough, according to a recent University of Connecticut study. Here's how to bone up on calcium if you can't tolerate dairy:
Get at least half of your daily 1,200 milligrams (mg) of calcium from food. There's evidence that a supplement/food combo is best for your bones. Just mix and match from this list of nine high-calcium, no-dairy choices. Any two or three will get you the daily 600 mg you need from food.
- Calcium-fortified soy milk (up to 500 mg per cup)
- Soy yogurt (up to 250 mg in 6 ounces)
- Calcium-fortified orange juice (300 mg per cup)
- Dark leafy greens, cooked: collards (357 mg per cup), turnip greens (249 mg per cup), or spinach (290 mg per cup)
- Tofu made with calcium sulfate (200-330 mg in 4 ounces) -- check the ingredients list
- Soybeans (175 mg per cup)
- Broccoli (94 mg per cup)
- Sardines (370 mg in a 3 ½-ounce tin!)
- Canned salmon (181 mg in 3 ounces)
Then take a 600 mg calcium supplement to fill in the rest. Calcium citrate absorbs best if you don't take your pill with meals.
Toss in these bone-friendly nutrients, too:
- Protein. Because your body is constantly breaking down and rebuilding your skeleton, molecule by molecule, you need a steady supply of protein (eggs, fish, skinless poultry, beans, lean meat) to provide the amino acids crucial for making bone, say researchers.
- Vitamin D. For maximum calcium absorption (and many other reasons!) you need 1,000 international units (IU) of it a day (1,200 IU if you're older than 60).
- Magnesium. It's a must for two reasons: First, calcium can make you constipated. Magnesium counteracts that (how Milk of Magnesia came to be). Second, it's essential for calcium absorption. If you buy a combo supplement of 600 mg of calcium and 200 mg of magnesium, you're covered (it's pretty easy to get the other 200-300 mg you need from food).
- Vitamin B12. Research has linked low levels of B12 to a higher risk for brittle bones.
What's your favorite recipe for a nondairy, calcium-rich food? Fresh collard green salad, anyone?
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