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Healthy Eating: Taking Calcium and Vitamin D

Introduction

Bone thinning occurs as part of the natural process of aging. If the thinning continues to the point that your bones become fragile and in danger of breaking, you have osteoporosis. But osteoporosis is considered a preventable disease.

  • After age 30, men and women naturally begin to lose bone mass. You can slow bone loss and possibly prevent osteoporosis by eating a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D.
  • Getting enough calcium and vitamin D is especially critical for women in the first few years after menopause, when bone mass is lost more rapidly.
  • If you do not get enough calcium and vitamin D from the foods you eat, talk to your doctor about how you can get the right amount through supplements and/or what you eat. Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium.
  • If you are diagnosed with osteoporosis, it's important to get enough calcium and vitamin D and take prescribed medicine for the disease.
  • Calcium is found in many foods, including dairy products such as milk, cheese, or yogurt, fortified orange juice, and many vegetables.

How can you get enough calcium and vitamin D in your daily diet?

Many foods contain high amounts of calcium. It is important that you also get enough vitamin D along with calcium to help your body absorb the calcium.

Calcium is in foods such as milk, cheese, and yogurt. Vegetables like broccoli, kale, and Chinese cabbage have calcium. You can get calcium if you eat the soft edible bones in canned sardines and canned salmon. Foods with added (fortified) calcium include some cereals, juices, soy drinks, and tofu. The food label will show how much calcium was added.

Vitamin D is in foods such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel. These are some of the best foods to eat when trying to get more vitamin D. Other foods with vitamin D, but in small amounts, include cheese, egg yolks, and beef liver. You can also get vitamin D from fortified foods such as milk and some cereals, orange juices, yogurts, margarines, and soy drinks.

For example, a good source of calcium is fat-free milk fortified with vitamin D. Four cups a day provide about 1,200 mg of calcium. Other good sources of calcium include shrimp, blackstrap molasses, calcium-fortified tofu, and almonds.

Everyone who has been diagnosed with osteoporosis should try to eat a diet rich in these nutrients. People who do not get enough calcium from their diet may need to take a calcium supplement with vitamin D.

Types of calcium supplements include:

  • Calcium carbonate, which is 40% elemental calcium.
  • Calcium citrate, which is 21% elemental calcium. While lower in elemental calcium than calcium carbonate, calcium citrate is easier to digest and does not cause constipation as much as other types of calcium supplements.
  • Calcium gluconate and calcium lactate, which contain a low amount of elemental calcium.

You can get calcium supplements at most grocery stores and pharmacies. They come in tablets, chewables, and capsules. Not all supplements contain the same amount of calcium or contain vitamin D, so read the label to see which one is best for you.

Consider how much calcium and vitamin D you normally get in your diet. Then each day take the number of tablets that satisfies your daily recommended amounts of calcium and vitamin D based on your age and health condition. Be careful not to take more than you need.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Carla J. Herman, MD, MPH - Geriatric Medicine
Current as of January 14, 2014

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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