When you think of calcium, you probably imagine your bones. This mineral is essential for creating your skeleton, but that’s not its only function. It’s also vital for blood clotting, maintaining normal heart rhythms and preserving neurological homeostasis — keeping your nerves operating as they should.
However, your body doesn’t produce this mineral. You need to consume it through the foods you eat.
Here are six tips to get enough calcium in your diet.
1. Consume More Dairy Products
The most obvious way to consume more calcium is to up your dairy product consumption. Milk and milk products are high in this mineral while providing other benefits. For example, the casein in milk covers your teeth in protective protein, preventing decay, while the magical mineral helps maintain them from the inside.
Enriched dairy foods also contain vitamin D, an essential nutrient for absorption. Without this substance, your body can’t form enough of the hormone calcitriol — aka active vitamin D. Your body takes calcium from your bones if you don’t get a sufficient intake, weakening them instead of vice versa. Fortunately, your body also manufactures vitamin D with adequate sun exposure, but many people don’t get enough.
What if you’re one of the many whose stomach revolts when you drink a glass of the white stuff? Some lactose-intolerant folks can tolerate certain cheeses, such as Swiss, Parmesan, cheddar or feta. Yogurt is another excellent choice, providing a gut-healthy dose of probiotics with your calcium. Many plant-based milks also provide a decent amount of calcium.
2. Get a Little Fishy
Other excellent sources of calcium and other essential nutrients like vitamin D are fish like salmon, shrimp and sardines. These benefit your body with omega-3 fatty acids, which are also critical for heart and neurological health. You need omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, but many people get too much of the latter because of our over-reliance on vegetable oils in processed foods. The unbalance may contribute to various diseases — correcting it can help.
The long summer days make it a snap to wrap some snapper in baking paper with a few lemon slices and fresh herbs from your garden, popping it on the grill for a few moments. You get juicy and delicious perfection without smelling up your house. What can you do during the winter months? Pop a few lemon slices in your Pyrex baking dish with a touch of rosemary to keep odors at bay. You’ll also impart a few extra nutrients and antioxidants in your meal.
3. Think Deep, Leafy Greens
“OK,” you might think, “calcium and vitamin D matter, but what if I practice a vegan lifestyle?” If so, you can still get enough of this precious mineral in your diet from plant-based sources.
One of your best options is deep, leafy greens like kale, broccoli and Swiss chard. These foods also offer rich reserves of vitamin K, another nutrient essential for blood clotting and cardiovascular health. Sauteing vegetables like spinach in olive oil makes this nutrient more bioavailable because it’s fat- and not water-soluble.
You don’t have to do much to get more of these foods in your diet — without living on salad. Add a slice of kale or a few spinach leaves to your lunchtime salad or wrap. Fill your next breakfast omelet with arugula. Make a delicious vegan burger with black beans and dark, leafy greens baked right into the patty, perhaps adding a few hemp seeds for texture.
4. Shop Milk Alternatives
You might also have luck with plant-based milk alternatives. A quick perusal of your grocery shelves reveals scores of brands with more calcium than dairy. Many of these products are enriched with this nutrient, but they can still increase your intake.
For example, many commercial brands of almond milk contain more calcium than dairy. Some varieties, such as hemp and fresh soy without additives, also have hefty doses of vitamin D. Many versions are lower in fat and calories, helpful for those watching their weight.
5. Consider a Supplement
Consider a supplement if you still harbor concerns about your calcium intake. Western minds seem to think more is automatically better for some reason, but this consumerist principle does not apply to the human body. It helps your bones, heart and nervous system, but too much can have the opposite effect. Your best bet is to keep a food and supplement diary to share with your doctor.
You have four choices for calcium supplements:
- Calcium carbonate: The cheapest form contains 40% elemental calcium, and you can find it in products like Tums. Hello, affordability.
- Calcium citrate: This form is in many popular supplements because of its absorbability but is less potent.
- Calcium gluconate: This version is available in prescription strength to fight osteoporosis and some over-the-counter preparations.
- Calcium lactate: This popular food additive also stabilizes and firms food.
6. Have Your Cake
Let’s end this list on a sweet note. Many of your favorite desserts are high in calcium, so consider finishing your meal with a flourish of delight if you’re concerned about your intake.
Ice cream and yogurt are obvious choices — and you can find non-dairy versions of each if you’re vegan. Many cultures end their meals with cheese and fruit, so get a bit continental and do the same.
Get Your Calcium
Calcium is an essential mineral for several body functions. Are you getting a sufficient intake?
If you’re worried, follow the tips above to get enough calcium in your diet. You’ll enjoy stronger bones and a healthier heart and nervous system.