Yes, getting the proper amount of calcium can help you build stronger bones and prevent osteoporosis.
In my last blog post, I shared with you Part 1 in my series focused on Risk and Screening for Osteoporosis at midlife.
Today’s focus will be on dietary changes you can take to maintain strong bones for a lifetime to prevent osteoporosis.
You might be wondering why I am diving into this topic so deeply… it really is because that appointment with my doctor a few weeks ago shocked me. It really did. It made me realize how little we talk about this topic and it’s just so important!
There are many lifestyle changes we can make, and they will be divided into sections; one on dietary strategies and the other on lifestyle changes, including exercise – or joyful movement as I like to call it.
Please note that these are just suggestions and not individualized prescriptions. I always advise meeting with your physician to obtain personalized recommendations that are tailored to your specific situation and needs. That’s why my team and I work in tandem with so many of our client’s healthcare teams… because everyone needs to be on the same page, and we all bring different expertise into helping our clients heal.
Dietary Interventions to help prevent Osteoporosis Include Getting Enough Calcium and Vitamin D
I’ll bet you knew I was going to advise you to get enough Calcium and Vitamin D in your diet (or through supplements.) and, yes, I am doing that… because they are two of the more important minerals and vitamins that we need for maintaining strong bones. Today’s article will focus on Calcium (the next article will focus on Vitamin D).
One of the best things you can do for your bones is to get enough calcium in your diet, plus a supplement, if needed. (I say if needed, because too many people look to supplements first before knowing how much they are getting in their diet.) We need calcium because our bones are made of calcium and require a supply of calcium to keep them strong as we age.
Here are the most recent recommendations (1,2) on Calcium, as well as ways to source them with your diet.
Recommendations For Calcium Intake:
- Female (or person with ovaries) over 50: 1200 milligrams (mg) of calcium a day.
- Male (or person with a male reproductive system): 1,000 mg per day from ages 50-70, and 1200 mg over 71
Food Sources of Calcium Include:
- Dairy foods such as milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream; canned salmon and canned sardines with bones.
- Non-dairy sources including calcium-enriched non-dairy milk, calcium-enriched juices, dried figs, almonds, beans, broccoli, greens such as collards, spinach, mustard greens and cabbage.
How Much Calcium Is Enough?
Mounting evidence suggests that too little calcium in the diet (less than 500–600 mg a day) is harmful, but too much calcium (adding calcium supplements when the intake is already 1,000 mg) also may be harmful. Therefore, it is prudent to figure out how much calcium your current diet contain.
Calculating Your Current Calcium Intake
The American Bone Association has a simple assessment tool called the Calcium Rule of 300. Before starting calcium supplements, check your current intake of dietary calcium:
- Start with # of servings of dairy foods or calcium-fortified juices you have each day
- Multiply that by 300
- Add 300 if you eat a well-balanced diet
- The total is your calcium intake from diet
For example, if I have cereal with milk (either dairy or non-dairy calcium-fortified) for breakfast and a yogurt later in the day, I have consumed 600 mg of calcium.
I add 300 for a well-balanced diet and I have roughly 900 mg per day. My calcium needs are 1200 mg, so I will either add one 300 mg supplement or add in additional dietary calcium sources.
Remember, calcium can be found in other foods besides dairy products. There are many different foods you can add to your diet to boost calcium intake without supplements.
What If You Are a Vegetarian?
Some studies indicate that people following a vegan diet tend to have lower bone mineral density scores than people who regularly consume dairy products. We are not sure if this has any clinical significance, but it is recommended to take supplemental calcium, as well as Vitamin D to maintain strong bones.
One of the richest sources of calcium in a vegan diet is Blackstrap molasses, which is a byproduct of sugar cane’s refining process. It has a whopping 200 mg per Tablespoon.
Other rich sources include collard greens (which is also a rich source of Vitamin K) and other cruciferous vegetables; hijiki, beans, nuts, and most importantly, calcium-fortified vegan milk, juice, and yogurt products.
Is There a List of Calcium Rich Foods?
The National Osteoporosis Foundation has an easy reference guide to Calcium Rich Foods if you are looking for other ideas and ways to include calcium in your diet.
My goal with this article is to get you thinking about how much calcium you need and know different ways to add it in your diet, and then supplement if you need that. Keep your Bones Strong!
For most folks, paying attention to what you eat is the first step. And that is a big part of what I teach with all the patients I work with 1-1 as well.
Whether you are looking to get off the diet roller coaster or add more calcium to your diet to keep your bones strong, it’s all about developing new habits. New habits that can help you feel your best as you go through all the associated physical and emotional changes of midlife!
If you are not sure about your own intake of calcium and what steps you should be taking, please reach out and book a free call with me. Let’s talk and determine what is the best path for you!
Be sure to check out this other article on Vitamin D and Osteoporosis and Menopause for more nutrition tips to help you prevent osteoporosis as you age.
- The Clinician’s Guide to Treating Osteoporosis (National Osteoporosis Foundation)
- Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Postmenopausal Osteoporosis – 2020 update (American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists/ American College of Endocrinology)
- Calcium and Vitamin D Requirements
- Calcium in the Vegan Diet
Get Help Tracking Your Vitamins
Another excellent way to track what you are eating is by using a planner and journal. You can purchase my Intuitive Eating Wellness Planner and Journal and keep a track of not only your food and feelings, but this planner also includes pages to help you track your health!
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Erica Leon is a Registered Dietitian and practices from a Health at Every Size (HAES®) lens. She is certified as an eating disorder specialist and is passionate about helping women at midlife, menopause and beyond to make peace with food and body image.
Erica is a highly sensitive nutrition therapist who takes the time to learn where you or your family are in the pursuit of health. Respectful of your individual needs and lifestyle, she will provide an honest assessment of whether or not you are a good fit to work together. Click here to schedule a 15-minute Discovery Call with Erica to let us know about your needs, and to see which of our Dietitians is the best fit for you!
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