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How to Get Enough Calcium From Your Diet

Calcium pills may raise heart risk, but these calcium-rich foods are safe

 We all know that calcium is important for bone health and can help prevent fractures as we age. While the jury is still out on whether popping a calcium pill is a good thing or not, all the experts agree that the best thing to do is to get more calcium through the food we eat.

A 2007 study by doctors at Washington University in St. Louis found that postmenopausal women who got most of their daily calcium from food had healthier bones than those who took supplements. Even though the supplement-takers in the study took in more calcium, tests showed that the food-only group still had higher bone density.

Obviously, dairy foods like milk, cheese and yogurt are good sources of calcium, but there are also many nondairy foods like almonds, dark green vegetables, tofu and canned salmon that contain this important nutrient.

Calcium-fortified foods including some breakfast cereals, orange juice and soy beverages are an additional option. Although these foods contain added calcium, it’s still less than the amount in calcium supplements and should be safe, says Sharonne Hayes, M.D., director of the Women’s Heart Clinic at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “Calcium from dietary sources has never been associated with increased cardiovascular risk,” she says.

The government recommends that people over 50 consume 1,200 mg of calcium daily. Here are some foods that are the best sources of calcium, according to the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture:

Dairy foods high in calcium:

• Plain low-fat yogurt, 8 ounces (415 mg)
• Cheddar cheese, 1.5 ounces (306 mg)
• Nonfat milk, 8 ounces (302 mg)
• Mozzarella, part skim, 1.5 ounces (275 mg)
• Fruit low-fat yogurt, 8 ounces (245-384 mg)
• Cottage cheese, 1 percent fat, 1 cup (138 mg)
• Chocolate instant pudding, low-fat, ½ cup (153 mg)

Nondairy foods high in calcium:

• Sardines, canned in oil, 3 ounces (325 mg)
• Tofu, firm, made with calcium sulfate, ½ cup (253 mg)
• Salmon, pink, canned, with bones, 3 ounces (181 mg)
• Collards, cooked, ½ cup (178 mg)
• Spinach, cooked, ½ cup (146 mg)
• Soybeans, green, cooked, ½ cup (130 mg)
• Turnip greens, cooked, ½ cup (124 mg)

Additional sources of calcium:

• Molasses, blackstrap, 1 tablespoon (172 mg)
• Trail mix, chocolate chips, salted nuts and seeds, 1 cup (159 mg)
• Trout, farmed, cooked, 3 ounces (73 mg)
• Almonds, 1 ounce, about 23 nuts (70 mg)
• Egg, one large, scrambled (43 mg)
• Blackberries, 1 cup (46 mg)
• Potato, one baked, with skin (30 mg)
• Peanuts, 1 ounce, roasted (25 mg)

Candy Sagon writes about health and nutrition for the AARP Bulletin.

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