Denise Nowack, RD

While building strong bones started early in childhood, keeping them healthy as we grow older requires attention and care. Good nutrition—particularly daily sources of calcium—is important for maintaining bone health.

Choose nonfat or lowfat dairy products often

  • Substitute yogurt for sour cream in dips, dressings and toppings (240-400 mg/cup)
  • Use milk to reconstitute canned soups, cereals, or instant potatoes (300 mg/cup)
  • “Strengthen” your milk with nonfat dry milk powder. Add 2 Tbsp powdered milk to 1 cup of regular milk for a 290 mg boost to the 300 mg already in milk.
  • Fill a baked potato with ½ cup of cottage cheese and broccoli (cheese/75 mg; broccoli/60 mg)
  • Top casseroles, omelet’s, toast, or steamed vegetables with shredded Swiss or mozzarella cheese (150-250 mg/ounce)

Other calcium-rich sources

  • Any type of fish with edible bones, such as canned salmon or sardines (440-569 mg)
  • Choose low-oxalate dark green vegetables like kale, broccoli, turnip greens, mustard greens. The calcium in these veggies is better absorbed than the calcium found in spinach, rhubarb, beet greens and almonds.
  • Calcium-fortified tofu, soymilk, orange juice, breads and cereals are excellent staples. Check the food labels to see just how much calcium has been added.

Beyond Calcium
Vitamin D also plays an important role in bone health by helping with the calcium absorption. During the summer getting enough vitamin D is easy as it only takes 15-20 minutes of skin exposure to the sun each day. Vitamin D can also be found fortified in foods that contain calcium. Be careful with supplementation as vitamin D is stored in the body and can be toxic in relatively low amounts (>2,000 i.u./day)

Phytates (found in legumes like pinto beans and peas) as well as oxalates (high in spinach, rhubarb and almonds) can interfere with calcium absorption. While these foods have other nutritional benefits, avoid eating them at the same time as your calcium-rich foods.

Calcium Supplements
While foods remain the best sources of calcium, calcium supplements can be helpful for those who are not able to get enough from their diet. Supplements come in many forms. The two most popular are calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Start by reading the label for the amount of elemental calcium.

Calcium Carbonate (e.g., Os-Cal, Tums) contains a high amount of elemental calcium and tends to be the best value. Calcium carbonate needs to be taken with food to help with absorption.

Calcium Citrate (e.g., Citrical, Solgar) contains less elemental calcium than calcium carbonate, but tends to be better tolerated. It is absorbed more easily and can be taken on an empty stomach.

The body can best handle about 500 mg of calcium at one time. Split doses of supplements throughout the day. Be sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist to determine whether a supplement will interact with any prescription medications you’re taking. The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends avoiding calcium from unrefined oyster shell, bone meal or dolomite without the USP, as these historically have contained higher lead levels or other toxic metals.