I read an article this weekend that really got me thinking about my bones. I know that seems weird…to be thinking about my bones! But, hear me out. I’m in my 40s. How I take care of myself now will impact how healthy and mobile I am when I’m in my 60s and 70s. A clean diet, plenty of sleep and plenty of exercise (especially weight-bearing exercise) is crucial.

Clean diet? Check. Plenty of sleep? Working on it and getting better all the time. Weight-bearing exercise? Double-check.

There’s just one tiny fly in my ointment and I’m wondering if it’s in yours too. Calcium. Are we getting enough?

Why is calcium so important to strong bones?

Calcium is essential to maintain your bone mass. Your body uses it constantly for your heart, blood, muscles and nerves. You lose it through normal bodily processes like waste, shedding hair, fingernails, sweat and skin. If your diet doesn’t include enough calcium to replace what’s used, your body will take it away from your bones, which weaken them and make you more susceptible to fractures.

Experts recommend about 1,000 mg a day for people 25-50 and 1,500 mg a day for people over 50. You’re probably getting at least that, right? Um, probably not. Surprisingly, it’s estimated that 70% of people do not get enough calcium in their diet, which has different effects on different age and population groups.

So, how can you get enough calcium?

The main calcium contenders are milk, yogurt, and cheese, but dairy shouldn’t be the only dietary pit stop to fill up on this nutrient. If you’re like me and the 40 million other Americans who are lactose intolerant, dairy simply isn’t an option.

Here are 14 of the best natural sources of calcium:

  • Sardines (321 mg per serving)
  • Canned salmon (232 mg per serving)
  • Kale (188 mg per serving)
  • Spinach (146 mg per ½ cup serving)
  • Black-eyed peas (185 mg per serving)
  • Blackstrap molasses (172 mg per serving)
  • White beans (191 mg per serving)
  • Seaweed (126 mg per serving)
  • Dried figs (107 mg per serving)
  • Turnip greens (197 mg per serving)
  • Sesame seeds (88 mg per serving)
  • Bok choy (74 mg per serving)
  • Almonds (72 mg per serving)
  • Oranges (65 mg per serving)

Don’t forget the vitamin D

Make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D with your non-dairy sources of calcium. Your body needs D to absorb calcium from the food that you eat. Otherwise, your body will just pass it out as waste. You can get vitamin D from a few places:

  • From foods like fatty fish (tuna, mackerel and salmon), fortified foods, beef liver, cheese and egg yolks.
  • From your own body when its exposed to sunlight (don’t forget the sunscreen, but be aware that it’s reported to interfere somewhat with your body’s production of vitamin D)
  • From supplements like a good multi-vitamin

So, what about your calcium and vitamin D situation? Think you’re getting enough? Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you taking a multi-vitamin? If not, you may want to consider it.
  • Does your diet include at least some of the foods listed above? A dinner of salmon sautéed kale or spinach could help you get closer to the daily recommended amount.
  • Do you get enough sun exposure? Try to walk outside for 20-30 minutes a day (with sunscreen of course). This can help you get in some weight-bearing exercise, too!

 

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