8 Sneaky Ways to Get Your Nutrients

Getting more calcium in your diet may be easier than you think. Try one of these easy tricks.

By Dorothy Foltz-Gray

Without calcium, bones wouldn’t exist. The mineral makes up 70% of your skeleton. It’s also essential for your heart, nerves and muscles. If you don’t have enough for those, your body robs the mineral from your boney frame, weakening bone health.

Bone mass tops out by age 30, says Joan Lappe, PhD, calcium researcher and professor of nursing and medicine at the Osteoporosis Research Center, Creighton University School of Medicine in Omaha, NE: “Women start losing bone before menopause, as ovaries stop producing estrogen; men start losing bone in their 50s and 60s.”

That’s why it’s key to get enough calcium every day—1,000 mg for people under 50; 1,200 mg for people over 50—whether or not you have osteoporosis, says Lappe. Add about 400-800 IU daily of vitamin D, which boosts calcium absorption.

Calcium from foods is best, as your body absorbs it better. But how much milk and cheese can you really eat? Try these sneaky ways to work calcium into your daily diet: 

  • Push powder. Every tablespoon of nonfat powered milk has 50 mg of calcium. Toss it into sauces, puddings, breads and casseroles.
  • Swap in soy. “Replace chicken chunks with tofu in a stir-fry or put it in a smoothie,” says nutrition expert Amy Lanou, PhD, professor of health and wellness at the University of North Carolina at Asheville and author of Building Bone Vitality (McGraw Hill, 2009). Some tofu brands have as much as 310 mg of calcium per cup. 
  • Buy fortified. Fruit juices, cereals, breakfast bars, bottled water, sports drinks, soymilk, yogurt—you name it, there’s a calcium-fortified version. “Read the label to check,” says Lappe. 
  • Dip into hummus. Spread a tortilla with hummus, says Lanou, touting this dip made with chickpeas and tahini (sesame seed paste). Or toss a salad with tahini dressing. One half cup of chickpeas has 38 mg of calcium, two tablespoons of tahini has 130 mg.
  • Go fish. Two ounces of sardines with bones contains 240 mg of calcium. Fatty fish, such as wild salmon, also offer vitamin D. “Wild salmon has about 900 IU of vitamin D, about four times that of farm raised,” says Lappe. 
  • Pass the grater. Grate low-fat cheese onto salads, soups and pasta. Just two ounces of Swiss cheese has 530 mg of calcium.
  • Nibble nuts. Instead of chips, reach for a handful of almonds. With three ounces, you'll get 210 mg of calcium, plus pick-me-up protein. Or crunch on Brazil nuts or walnuts, also rich in calcium.
  • Graze on green. Toss kale or collard greens into soup or a burrito. The calcium in spinach and chard isn’t easily absorbed, says Lanou. Better bets are kale, collards, Brussels sprouts and broccoli.
Published December 2013

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