Why we need it: No doubt you know that this mineral is vital for maintaining strong bones and teeth. Inadequate calcium intake can lead to osteoporosis, a condition that results in weak and brittle bones. What you may not know is that calcium may be helpful in preventing and treating high blood pressure and easing symptoms of PMS.
Best foods for it: Milk and other dairy products (such as yogurt, cheese and cottage cheese), broccoli, dark green leafy vegetables, soy products and foods fortified with calcium, including fortified orange juice and soymilk.
Do you need a supplement? If you don’t get enough of the mineral from your diet, calcium supplements can help you meet your needs. (Take only up to 500 milligrams of calcium at a time since the body can’t absorb more than that at once.) Populations who may need more calcium include pregnant and nursing women, and perimenopausal and menopausal women. If you do take calcium, be sure to take a vitamin D supplement along with it. “Recently, an analysis of several studies suggested that taking calcium supplements without vitamin D is associated with an increased risk of heart attacks,” say Tammy Lakatos and Lyssie Lakatos, (aka the Nutrition Twins), both registered dietitians and authors of The Secret to Skinny.
The bottom line: Aim to get three servings of dairy or equally calcium-fortified foods each day, and include leafy green vegetables in your diet. “Keep in mind that it’s best to go for low-fat and fat-free dairy options to avoid the saturated fat that raises cholesterol,” says Tammy Lakatos. If you aren’t able to stomach enough calcium-rich foods daily, consider a calcium supplement in combination with vitamin D.