As one of the most abundant minerals in the human body, it’s no wonder that calcium is crucial for good health
While you may immediately associate it with strong, healthy bones, calcium plays a key role in other body functions as well. And you don’t need to drink a carton of milk every day to make sure that you’re getting enough. Here are four things you should know about this essential mineral.
1. Don’t stop at dairy
Most adults should aim for 1,000 mg of calcium daily to maintain strong bones and teeth, and help muscles and nerves function. There are many ways to fit this into your diet. “We encourage milk products because they’re so nutrient dense,” says Emily Burt-Hann, a registered dietitian at Food First in Medicine Hat, Alberta. “Two cups of milk has 600 mg. If someone can’t tolerate dairy, it requires more vigilance.'” We can all benefit from calcium-rich foods such as almonds (75 mg per 1/4 cup); cooked bok choy (85 mg per 1/2 cup), canned salmon with bones (180 mg per 1/2 cup); sesame seeds (90 mg per tablespoon); dried figs (150 mg in six); and broccoli (50 mg per 1/2 cup).
2. Vitamin D boosts calcium absorption
“If calcium is the lock, vitamin D is the key,” says Burt-Hann. “Adequate vitamin D intake can ensure you get the most out of both dietary and supplemental calcium.”‘ Our skin produces vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, but we can’t generate enough between October and April due to our country’s northern latitude. Fortified milk, multivitamins and some foods contain vitamin D, but it may not be enough; talk to your doctor about your intake and whether you should take supplements.
3. Calcium may help you lose weight
Although we don’t yet know why, it appears that calcium, particularly in dairy products, encourages the body to use fat as an energy source, rather than store it. “Several studies reveal that milk products may help you lose weight as part of a low-calorie diet, or help prevent weight gain,” says Burt-Hann. Calcium in dairy products is more effective than in supplements, so it’s possible that other components, such as protein, play a role.
4. You can boost calcium intake by tweaking your food prep
“It’s as simple as making a can of tomato soup with milk instead of water. Four tablespoons of skim-milk powder equals one cup of milk,” says Burt-Hann. “You could add it to a smoothie or puréed vegetable. Experiment a little bit.” Other delicious ideas: Add broccoli, kale or bok choy to stir-fries (or to that tomato soup) and sprinkle with toasted almonds; make hummus with yogurt instead of oil; add tofu (find a brand that’s high in calcium) to lasagna; or switch from coffee to lattes.
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