Calcium is an essential mineral that the body needs to function properly. Among its many duties, calcium regulates the heartbeat and assists in normal blood clotting. It also builds and maintains strong bones which can become a problem for anyone after age 30 when bone mass loss begins.  For women, the loss of bone mass  further accelerates after menopause, and they are twice as likely as men to get osteoporosis (a condition where bones progressively weaken).  Calcium is a necessity to prevent brittle broken bones as we age.

What If I’m Lactose Intolerant?

Many non-dairy foods can provide calcium. Here are a few:

  •  8 ounces of fortified vegetable juice (300 mg)
  • 1 cup of cooked turnip greens (200 mg)
  • 1 cup of baked beans (130 mg)
  • 1 medium orange (50 mg)

For more non-dairy foods with calcium, go to the New York State Department of Health’s website on The Food Pyramid. Also, read about other foods fortified with minerals in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans online.

Adults need approximately 1,000 to 1,200 mg of calcium every day. The body does not produce calcium on its own, so it must be consumed from outside sources. Some people use calcium supplements to reach that goal; however, a recent study suggests that post-menopausal women who take calcium supplements may increase their risk of heart attack. While the findings were not definitive, researchers found that raised calcium levels in the blood can create deposits in the arteries that block blood flow to the heart.

If these findings make you wary of taking supplements, know that you can find much of your calcium needs from a balanced, healthy diet. The following foods are rich in calcium, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the United States Department of Agriculture.

Milk. As the 1980s National Dairy Board campaign regularly remarked, “Milk. It does a body good.” You have known from childhood about the benefits of milk. Its nutritional value helps grow strong bones and can reduce the risk of diseases like diabetes, hypertension and certain types of cancer. One cup (8 ounces) of skim milk provides 306 mg of calcium. However, you don’t have to drink four cups of milk a day to reach your goal. Work milk into your diet by trying the following:

  • Have a bowl of cereal and milk for breakfast or a late-night snack.
  • Make a smoothie using your favorite fruit, milk and ice.
  • Add milk to your morning cup of coffee.

For more suggestions and information on milk, visit Got Milk? online.

Yogurt. This creamy delight offers a lot of calcium in a small cup. Eight ounces of plain non-fat yogurt boasts 452 mg. Just two cups put you well on your way towards getting enough calcium.

Cheese. Cheese comes in many varieties – some of which are low in fat. Just an ounce or two provides high amounts of calcium. Try 1.5 ounces of Romano cheese that has 452 mg or 1.5 ounces of Swiss cheese that has 336 mg. Be mindful of your caloric intake when adding cheese to your diet. For more information on calcium amounts and calories, read the special section on “Food Sources of Selected Nutrients” in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans online.

Strong Laborers are built from strong bones, and it starts with a healthy diet. The Laborers’ Health and Safety Fund of North America has resources to help you eat right. Order Nutrition and Fitness for Laborers online from our publications library.

[Jennifer E. Jones]