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14 Calcium-Rich Foods You Need to Eat Right Now

Milk-Glass_300The medical community has long recommended adding calcium to your diet to enhance bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Here’s how to know if you’re getting enough, from Muscle Medicine: The Revolutionary Approach to Maintaining, Strengthening, and Repairing Your Muscles and Joints, by Rob DeStefano, D.C., Bryan Kelly, M.D., and Joseph Hooper.

Nutritionist Heidi Skolnik advises both the Giants and her female clients at the Hospital for Special Surgery on eating habits to preserve musculoskeletal health for the long haul. For women entering the menopausal years and beyond, getting enough calcium to protect bone density and reduce the risk of osteoporosis is a special concern. (The government recommends 1,000 milligrams for adults ages nineteen to fifty, 1,200 milligrams for adults fifty-one or older, and 1,200–1,500 milligrams for postmenopausal women.) A diet with plenty of (mostly low-fat) dairy products should do the trick (see the list below). If not, a calcium citrate supplement can make up the difference. Besides calcium’s bone-strengthening properties, evidence suggests that it helps to regulate blood pressure, and intriguing, preliminary evidence suggests that it may stimulate the body to burn fat more efficiently. No matter how good you think your diet may be, if you’re a woman over forty, you should get a bone-density test and a full blood and urine test workup to see if you’re at risk for osteoporosis. Senior men can also be at risk.

It isn’t enough just to consume calcium. The body has to properly absorb it, and here vitamin D plays a crucial role. During the warm-weather months, your body manufactures vitamin D when your skin is exposed to sunlight. During the colder months (or all year if you don’t go outside much or wear strong sunblock religiously when you do), your stores of vitamin D drop. Foods such as organ meats and cold-water fish such as sardines and herring have some vitamin D, but you’d have to eat like a Siberian fisherman to reach the government’s recommended daily intake of 400 international units. The usual route is fortified foods (milk is usually fortified with 125 IU) and supplements (a good multivitamin should have 400 IU, but make sure it’s the more potent vitamin D3 form). Because a hip fracture can be a life-threatening trauma for the elderly, especially elderly women, Skolnik recommends for them a daily intake of at least 800 IU and, depending on the individual, as high as 2,000 IU. Have your vitamin D levels checked and consult with your doctor. (Vitamin D deficiency can result in muscle pain, and recent studies have linked low vitamin D intake with an increased risk of cancer, among other diseases. That should get your attention considering 41 percent of men and 53 percent of women in the United States are vitamin D deficient.)

Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation and protect muscles and connective tissues is also a sensible choice. (Skolnik suggests a two-to-four-gram daily intake, taking the pill with food and splitting up the dosage over the day.)

There are other joint-friendly supplements out there with some supporting science on their side (if not the research pedigree of omega-3) that may be worth looking into. SAM-e (S-Adenosyl-methionine) is derived from the amino acid methionine; Zyflamend combines two spices with confirmed anti-inflammatory effects, ginger and turmeric. Enthusiasm, and positive study results, has waned for another combo supplement, glucosamine and chondroitin. In a 2006 New England Journal of Medicine study, the supplement did not reduce pain overall, but did benefit one subgroup of patients with moderate to severe pain. In a smaller 2008 study published in Arthritis and Rheumatism, the supplement scored no better than a sugar pill placebo. (Check with your physician before beginning any supplementation program.)

Putting Calcium in Your Diet
(Chart figures mostly from USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard References, Release 21)

Food: Calcium-fortified cereal (brand: Total)
3⁄4 cup
Calcium (mg): 1,000

Food: Yogurt, low-fat, plain
8 oz
Calcium (mg):

Food: Calcium-fortified orange juice
Amount: 1 cup
Calcium (mg): 350

Food: Sardines
Amount: 3 oz Calcium (mg): 325 Food: Spinach, cooked Amount: 1 cup Calcium (mg): 291

Food: Milk, low-fat
Amount: 1 cup
Calcium (mg): 290

Food: Soy milk, fortified
Amount: 1 cup
Calcium (mg): 300
Food: Cottage cheese, low-fat
Amount: 1 cup
Calcium (mg): 206

Food: Chedder cheese, reduced-fat
Amount: 1 oz
Calcium (mg): 200

Food: Salmon, canned, with bones
Amount: 3 oz
Calcium (mg): 181

Food: Tofu, processed with calcium
Amount: 1⁄4 block
Calcium (mg): 163

Food: Almonds
Amount: 1⁄3 cup
Calcium (mg): 110

Food: Beans, cooked
Amount: 1⁄2 cup
Calcium (mg): 25–65 Food: Broccoli, cooked Amount: 1 cup Calcium (mg): 61


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