If the world of bone health had a mascot, calcium would be it. The mineral, after all, is a major structural component of bones (and teeth!). But, as it turns out, calcium’s role in the body doesn’t stop at your skeletal system. According to Susan Greeley, M.S., RDN, a registered dietitian and chef instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education, calcium is also required for muscle function, hormonal secretion and healthy blood clotting. Additionally, the mineral is involved in heart health, as it’s required by blood cells to pump blood efficiently. Even nerve cells need calcium to communicate properly with each other and transmit signals. Needless to say, calcium is a very important mineral.
According to the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, adult men and women need 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day. However, women aged 50 and older need a bit more, about 1,300 milligrams per day. The reason? Menopause—which typically occurs between ages 45 and 55—involves a drop in estrogen production. This reduces calcium absorption, thus increasing the risk of bone loss and increasing older women’s calcium needs. Conditions like vitamin D deficiency, parathyroid hormone disorders or taking certain medications can also increase one’s calcium requirements, according to Greeley.
Luckily, there are plenty of foods that offer calcium—and you’re likely eating lots of them already. Read on for the healthiest high-calcium foods to add to your plate every day.
As a milk-based product, cheese is another calcium-rich food that deserves a callout. According to registered dietitian Victoria Whittington, RDN, ricotta and mozzarella cheeses are particularly noteworthy in the calcium department. Half a cup of ricotta cheese contains about 305 milligrams of calcium, while a half-cup of part-skim mozzarella cheese holds about 299 milligrams. That’s on top of the other nutrients found in cheeses, like vitamin B12, vitamin A and protein.
While plant-based foods tend to contain less calcium than dairy products do, they can still contribute to your overall intake. One such example is soy, or soy protein, which comes from soybeans. Soy products are ideal if you’re lactose-intolerant or follow a plant-based diet, as their protein content is comparable to dairy’s. Moreover, they’re available in many forms. For example, 1 cup of cooked edamame (young soybeans) has 98 milligrams of calcium. Raw tofu prepared with calcium sulfate also contains an impressive amount, about 861 milligrams per half-cup.
3. Dark leafy greens
That’s right, leafy green veggies are surprisingly rich sources of calcium, along with nutrients like fiber, folate, vitamin C and vitamin K—just to name a few. In terms of calcium, some of the best options include spinach, turnip greens and kale. For example, a half-cup of spinach contains 123 milligrams of calcium. And don’t limit yourself to salads: Leafy greens are more versatile than you may think. To up your intake, start your day by adding greens to a breakfast smoothie or loaded veggie omelet, Greeley suggests. “If you like avocado toast, add some greens to that,” she says. You can also cook a handful of greens into your favorite soups, sauces, rice recipes and pasta dishes.
In addition to soybeans, other types of beans also offer some calcium. Case in point: In half a cup of canned white beans, you’ll get about 80 milligrams of calcium. Half a cup of canned black-eyed peas (which are actually beans!) provides about 106 milligrams. Beans are also a hearty source of plant protein, making them perfect for plant-based burgers and veggie chili.
(Real Simple magazine provides smart, realistic solutions to everyday challenges. Online at www.realsimple.com.)
©2022 Eating Well, Inc. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.