Originally published on Goodhousekeeping.com
You start losing bone density as early as age 20, but how you eat can slow it down.
We've all heard the slogan: "Milk, it does a body good." Why? Because of the calcium.
And while you may know that adding healthy sources of calcium to a child's diet is essential for building strong bones, keeping it up through adulthood is just as vital. In fact, you reach your peak bone mass as early as your 20s, and from then on, your bone density begins declining.
But you don't need to resign yourself to a steady decline. A proper diet filled with calcium- and vitamin D-rich foods can go a long way toward slowing bone mineral loss. These nutrients offer a one-two punch: Calcium helps keep your bones strong, and the vitamin D helps your body to absorb it. “Think of your bones as a retirement savings account,” says Taylor C. Wallace, PhD, CFS, FACN, Sr. Director, Science Policy and Government Relations at the National Osteoporosis Foundation. “You only get strong ROI if you constantly invest properly.”
So how much do you need? According to the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, women between the ages of 19 and 50 need 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day, and at least 1,200 if you’re over the age of 50. Add to that 600 to 1000 IUs (international units) of vitamin D daily. Luckily, it’s easy to get your recommended fill of both calcium and vitamin D thanks to supplements and healthy foods.
Here are few things to fill your plate with:
Low- or Non-Fat Dairy Products
Milk, yogurt, and some cheeses top the list for best sources of calcium. One serving of milk contains 300 milligrams of calcium. A one-ounce serving of Cheddar cheese comes in at more than 200 milligrams. Yogurt can contain anywhere from 250 to nearly 400 milligrams calcium per serving, though Heather Hofflich, DO, FACE, and Associate Clinical Professor at University of California at San Diego, notes that Greek yogurt has less, only about 100 milligrams. (Frozen yogurt, too, in case you were wondering.) Full-fat dairy products contain just about as much calcium per serving as their lower-fat counterparts, but most experts recommend limiting fat intake for your overall health.
Canned Sardines and Salmon
Canned salmon and sardines are great sources of calcium — so long as you eat the bones. Yes, the bones. The canning process softens the tiny fish bones, so they're completely safe to eat. A three-ounce serving of sardines delivers more than 300 milligrams of calcium and the same of canned salmon will get you nearly 200 milligrams.
Other Fatty Fish
Fatty fish, such as mackerel, fresh salmon, and canned or fresh tuna are among the best naturally occurring sources of vitamin D in food — and one of the few (many other foods are just fortified). Beef liver, egg yolks, and some mushrooms also have small amounts of naturally occurring vitamin D.
These dark leafy greens are a standard on southern tables for a reason. Not only are they a delicious source of dietary fiber, they’re also an excellent source of calcium. One eight-ounce serving of collard greens gives you as much as 360 milligrams of calcium. Kale and bok choy are also great vegetarian sources of calcium, delivering around 180 milligrams and 160 milligrams per serving respectively.
Alternative Milks and Orange Juice
For anyone with lactose intolerance, soy, almond, and rice milks boost bone health just as much as their dairy counterparts if they’re fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Orange juice, too. One eight-ounce serving of fortified juice or alternative milk matches the calcium in a serving of milk at 300 milligrams. Just be sure to shake the carton before pouring, as calcium tends to settle at the bottom.
Fortified Cereals and Grains
Alternative milks and orange juice aren’t the only foods to benefit from being fortified. Many cereals and cereal grains, such as oatmeal or the packaged cereals and bread products you’ll find on your grocer’s shelves, deliver excellent calcium. Fortified oatmeal has as much as 140 milligrams per serving and a two-waffle serving can provide as 200 milligrams calcium to your daily intake.
There's also good news for caffeine lovers: Moderate caffeine intake has little effect on your bone health, according to Taylor C. Wallace, Senior Director, Science Policy and Government Relations, at the National Osteoporosis Foundation. So long as you’re meeting your daily calcium and vitamin D requirements, that daily cup of Joe is totally fine.