Calcium in the diet is very important for healthy bones, especially for women. Many people do not realize that they are calcium deficient until it is too late: daily calcium requirements can be as high as 1,500 milligrams, although most people need around 1,000 milligrams. By increasing their consumption of natural calcium sources, people can help ensure strong bones as they age, resulting in less breakage or potential for osteoporosis. Dairy and animal products are very efficient sources of calcium, as are leafy green vegetables and many nuts.
While calcium supplements can be useful, this mineral is better absorbed when it is eaten with food, especially foods that contain vitamin D. Vitamin D helps the body to retain and store calcium, and many foods that contain calcium also have vitamin D. These sources are healthy for other reasons as well, and most of them contain a number of vitamins and minerals that promote health.
An 8 ounce (236.5 ml) glass of milk or 6 ounce (177.4 ml) serving of yogurt has 300 milligrams of calcium. Cheeses are usually rich in calcium as well, and 540 milligrams of calcium can be found in only 2 ounces (56.7 g) of Swiss cheese, for example. Many dairy products come fortified with vitamin D to enhance calcium absorption, and they can be eaten with a wide variety of foods, making it easy to increase the intake of this mineral. Fish, such as sardines, which are preserved with the bones in, also good sources of calcium.
For vegetarians and others who want to avoid a high intake of animal products, there are a number of plant and animal sources of calcium. Leafy green vegetables and many nuts are high in calcium. People who eat a lot of leafy greens, such as broccoli, spinach, chard, or mustard greens, should be aware that they also contain oxalic acid, which can interfere with calcium absorption. To get the full benefit of the greens, people should cook them so that the oxalic acid is neutralized. In the case of nuts, people should remember that they are also high in fats, although the fats are healthy as long as people do not eat too many. Many soy products, including tofu and soy milk, are also fortified with calcium.
The wide variety of dietary sources of calcium mean that individuals can eat a healthy and balanced diet that meets their needs without being bored. A number of websites provide recipes that can help people meet their dietary requirements. Those who eat a conscious and balanced diet should not need to rely upon a calcium supplement to meet their needs, although people who want to take calcium anyway to ensure that they are reaching their dietary requirements should consume it with food.