Calcium is a mineral necessary for normal bodily functions. Apart from calcium’s primary role in bone health, lesser amounts are needed for cell signaling, muscle contractions, nerve transmission, and blood clotting.
Having consistently low amounts of dietary calcium can lead to adverse health conditions such as osteoporosis later in life. Characterized by weak and porous bones, osteoporosis contributes to the risk of bone fractures. This develops over a long period of time because the body takes the calcium it needs at any one time from bones when dietary intake is not sufficient to maintain normal biological functions. You can aid in preventing this chronic disease through regular physical activity and a healthy diet rich in calcium.
The recommendation for people from 19 to 50 years old is 1000 mg of calcium per day, as established by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine. Below are some foods rich in calcium that can help meet this recommendation:
Milk is a great choice because of its high calcium content (30% DV) per one cup serving. It’s better to opt for low-fat or fat-free milk, rather than full-fat, as reducing the fat content has no effect on calcium content of the milk. Fat in dairy products is a saturated, animal fat. Guidelines are to limit saturated fat intake to mo greater than 10% of calories each day. Not only is dairy a good source of calcium, but is usually also a good source of protein. Milk provides a substantial 8g of protein per one cup serving.
For those who are lactose-intolerant or do not like the taste of milk, almond milk usually provides 20-45% DV calcium and soy milk provides 30-45% DV calcium, depending on the brand purchased.
Cheese is another great option, but be careful of its high saturated fat content – these are best consumed sparingly. Its wide range of flavors can be easily incorporated into many recipes, whether it’s used ina quiche,sprinkled on a salad or inside a sandwich. Cheeses that have no flavors added or are not processed are naturally gluten-free. According to the Natural Dairy Council, swiss, cheddar, ricotta, and Colby cheeses are higher in calcium than other kinds of cheese. A one ounce slice (28g) of swiss cheese provides 22% DV of calcium and 8g of protein. A one ounce slice (28g) of cheddar cheese provides 20%DV of calcium and 7g of protein. There is an interesting fact sheet here by the National Dairy Council.
Check out this light baked macaroni and cheese recipe. To make it even healthier, use whole wheat pasta opt for fat-free milk instead of 1%.
Tofu, which is made from soybeans, is also a good source of calcium, though the exact amount can vary widely according to the way it is produced. There are different “firmnesses” of tofu, ranging from silken to soft to firm to extra firm.. The difference in firmness is created during the manufacturing process when water is pressed out of the tofu. More water extracted from tofu leads to a harder and denser tofu, while less water extracted leads to a softer texture. Apart from personal preferences, different firmness of tofu should be used for different recipes. For instance, an extra firm tofu should be used for stir frys so the tofu does not break apart during cooking. Silken tofus can be used if the tofu needs to be blended.
Be versatile and try creating a chocolate tofu mousse with silken tofu here. Unconventional and quick, this recipe is a healthier alternative to traditional mousse because it has more protein and less fat.
Some vegetables also contain calcium. Kale, a leafy green, contains more calcium than other vegetables, with 9% DV of calcium and only 33 calories per one cup serving. Kale is also an excellent source of vitamin A (contains 206% DV) and vitamin C (contains 134% DV). Adequate amounts of vitamin A are necessary to prevent night blindness in individuals and vitamin C protects the body via antioxidant functions.
Though kale has a deep and sometimes bitter flavor, it can still be incorporated into any fruit smoothie by adding between a half to one cup (don’t forget to separate the “leaves” from the stem and ribs!) during the blending process. Another great idea is roasted kale chips, lightly seasoned with salt and grated cheese.
Other veggies containing smaller amounts of calcium that adds up over a days intake, include broccoli, dry beans, peas, and lentils.
By Esther Chen, Clinical Nutrition Student