March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Calcium is perhaps the most essential nutrient when it comes to bone health. Building strong bones is like building a healthy balance in your “calcium bank account.” Bones are living tissue and constantly in a state of turnover, making calcium deposits and withdrawals daily.
Bones don't come with a lifetime guarantee. They need continuous maintenance or they can weaken and break. If your diet is low in calcium, your body will take calcium from your bones to keep blood calcium at normal levels.
For a lifetime of healthy bones:
- Consume three servings of low-fat or fat-free milk or other dairy products every day.
- Supplement your diet with calcium from calcium-fortified foods and beverages, if you don’t or can’t consume milk.
- Follow an overall healthy eating plan using the MyPlate Food Guidance system (www.choosemyplate.gov).
- Be physically active with weight-bearing exercise like walking, running or weight training.
Focus on Food First
Registered dietitians recommend food as the primary source of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, such as calcium.
When shopping, read food labels and select foods that contain 10 percent or more of the Daily Value for calcium. Foods high in calcium or fortified with calcium may be labeled as "calcium-rich" or "excellent source of calcium."
Try these calcium-boosting tips:
- Drink an 8-ounce glass of milk with your meal. Fat-free and low-fat milk have the same amount of calcium as whole milk.
- Add low-fat or fat-free milk to coffee or tea.
- Make oatmeal with milk instead of water.
- Eat 1 cup of low-fat or fat-free yogurt with fruit for breakfast or a snack.
- Melt low-fat or fat-free cheese on a whole-grain bagel, tortilla or English muffin.
- Top a baked potato with ½-cup of steamed broccoli and ¼-cup shredded low-fat or fat-free cheese.
- Add a handful of shredded low-fat or fat free cheese to a tossed salad.
- Make a breakfast shake by blending low-fat or fat-free milk with a banana or strawberries.
Are All Sources of Calcium Absorbed Efficiently?
Calcium is absorbed best if your intake of calcium-rich foods is spread out during the day. A registered dietitian can help you choose foods or a combination of foods and a supplement to meet your individual calcium needs, while keeping in mind calcium intake should not exceed 2,500 milligrams per day.
More Tips for Bone Health
- Do some weight-bearing activities daily. The pushing and pulling muscles do against bones makes them stronger.
- Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol intake.
- Ask your physician if you need a bone density test based on your risk factors for osteoporosis or if you are a woman over 50.
- Read food labels and look for foods and beverages that provide calcium.
- Choose a calcium supplement if you need it that contains vitamin D, which will aid in the calcium’s absorption.
- See a registered dietitian for individual assistance and recommendations.