Milk ads have taught us that calcium builds strong bones and teeth. But this essential substance does a lot more than that for our health. Since our bodies don’t produce calcium, getting adequate amounts from foods is a must. Skimp on calcium and you run the risk of developing osteoporosis.
The Role of Calcium on the Body
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in our bodies and 99% of the amount we ingest is stored in our teeth and bones. The remaining 1% of the calcium is dispersed among nerve cells, body tissues and in the blood and performs many vital functions. This miniscule percentage is so important that in order to maintain the supply, your body will extract it from your bones, setting you up for a weakened skeleton.
Calcium has been called the most essential mineral in our bodies because it’s indispensable to maintaining normal physiological functions. Calcium plays a role in constricting and relaxing blood vessels, transmitting nerve impulses and secreting hormones like insulin. Calcium ions are also necessary to activate the blood clotting mechanism. Perhaps most importantly, without calcium your muscles wouldn’t be able to contract and relax. And that includes the all-important function of keeps our hearts beating in a regular rhythm.
Causes of Low Calcium in Older Adults
According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, older adults are particularly vulnerable to low levels of calcium. This is because as we age,
- Our dietary calcium intake declines, usually the result of an overall reduced caloric intake.
- Our ability to absorb calcium decreases, especially if vitamin D levels are low.
- Our kidneys become less efficient in retaining calcium.
How Much Calcium Do Older Adults Require?
According to the National Institute of Health, the recommended daily intake of calcium for adults aged 50 to 70 is 1,000 milligrams for men and 1,200 milligrams for women.
If you’re not getting an adequate intake of calcium every day, chances are you won’t experience obvious signs or symptoms of calcium deficiency in the short term. But over the long term, inadequate calcium intake can reduce bone mass, and if left untreated, can lead to osteoporosis and an increased risk of bone fractures.
The best sources of calcium come from dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese. However, if you’re lactose intolerant or on a vegan diet, you can also get calcium from non-dairy sources like leafy greens, salmon and sardines, certain nuts and fortified foods. Getting your calcium from dietary sources (as opposed to supplements) has several advantages. Your body absorbs calcium better when it gets it in smaller doses throughout the day, rather than all at once.
To retain the calcium in the foods you eat, it’s recommended to cook foods in a small amount of water for the shortest amount of time possible. This means steaming or sautéing foods rather than boiling them. You should also take note of the other foods you eat. Consuming certain high-fiber foods such as wheat bran, spinach and rhubarb can bind with calcium and prevent it from being absorbed by the body.
14 Foods Rich in Calcium
Calcium-rich foods, like the ones listed below, provide other nutrients that help your body absorb and utilize this essential mineral.
1. Mineral Water
Drinking sparkling mineral water with or between meals is a refreshing way to stay hydrated without adding any sugar, calories, or caffeine. A liter of mineral water can supply up to a quarter of your recommended calcium intake.
2. Calcium-Fortified Orange Juice
Calcium-fortified orange juice supplies vitamin C, which also helps with calcium supplementation. Each serving has 25% of your daily calcium requirement.
3. Sardines or Canned Salmon (Look for BPA-free cans)
When you eat sardines or canned salmon (both of which are good sources of calcium), the vitamin D in the fish helps direct that calcium into your bones. One can of sardines supplies 30% of your daily calcium requirement.
4. Bok Choi
Bok choi, also known as Chinese cabbage, is a member of the the super-nutritious cruciferous vegetable family. Bok choi is particularly high in calcium, which supports bone health.
A 1/2 cup of frozen or cooked Kale contains 95 milligrams of calcium. Kale is also packed with fiber, vitamin K and omega-3 fatty acids.
6. Radish Greens
Don’t toss those radish greens; they are just as edible as the root. Like all leafy greens, radish greens are a source of calcium, vitamin A and vitamin C.
A fennel bulb contains 115 milligrams of calcium, just under 10% of the recommended daily intake for older adults.
8. Greek Yogurt
The casein in dairy products improves the absorption of calcium in the intestines. Each serving provides 25% of your daily calcium requirement.
It’s recommended that people over age 50 take in as much as 1,000 milligram of calcium every day — a 1/4 cup of almonds provides 94 milligrams of calcium, or just under 10% of the recommended daily intake.
Just one cup of pistachios provides 132 milligrams of calcium and 16.2 micrograms of vitamin K. That works out to more than 10% of the recommended daily intake of each for older adults.
11. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are very high in dietary fiber, a good source of calcium and contain heart-protective omega-3 fatty acids.
One cup of asparagus contains 70% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin K. Vitamin K works to clear calcium out of arteries and into bones.
A medium artichoke provides nearly a quarter of the recommended daily intake of vitamin K.
14. Tofu and Calcium-Fortified Soy Milk
Tofu and calcium-fortified soy milk also supply protein, which helps maintain strong bones as you age. Each serving contains 25-35% of your daily calcium requirement.