The road to strong bones is paved with calcium-rich food. Leafy green vegetables and low-fat dairy products are excellent sources of calcium, the mineral that puts stiffness into your skeletal system and keeps your bones from turning rubbery and fragile.
Your body uses calcium for more than keeping your bones strong. Calcium permits cells to divide, regulates muscle contraction and relaxation, and plays an important role in the movement of protein and nutrients inside cells. If you don’t absorb enough from what you eat to satisfy these requirements, your body will take it from your bones. Because your body doesn’t produce this essential mineral, you must continually replenish the supply. Even though the recommended daily amount is 1,200 mg, most adults don’t eat more than 500 mg.
One reason may have been the perception that calcium-rich dairy products were also loaded with calories. “In the past, women, in particular, worried that dairy products were high in calories,” says Letha Y. Griffin, M.D., of Peachtree Orthopaedics in Atlanta. “But today you can get calcium without eating any high-fat or high-calorie foods by choosing skim milk or low-fat yogurt.” Also, low-fat dairy products contain phosphorous and magnesium and are generally fortified with vitamin D, all of which help your body absorb and use calcium.
If you find it difficult to include enough calcium in your diet, ask your doctor about supplements. They’re a potent way to get calcium as well as vitamin D and other minerals. But there’s a downside. If you rely on pills in lieu of a calcium-rich diet, you won’t benefit from the other nutrients that food provides. Getting the recommended vitamin D may be easy, since your body makes the vitamin when your skin is exposed to the sun’s rays.