New-Mom Fortification

Knowing that calcium is essential for building strong bones and that folic add can help prevent birth defects like spina bifida, you probably boosted your intake of these nutrients during pregnancy.

But don't stop there. A growing body of research shows that continuing to get adequate amounts of these nutrients after the baby is born can have a wide array of health benefits. Chicago-based nutrition expert Jodie Shield, R.D., says that these days it's easier than ever to get enough because many foods are now fortified with calcium and folate. Here's what you need to know:

  • Calcium may help prevent osteoporosis, hypertension, colon cancer and kidney stones. Women under 50 need 1,000 milligrams daily; over 50, that increases to 1,200 milligrams.

    Dairy products are the quickest way to make sure you're getting enough calcium. A cup of skim milk provides about 300 milligrams, while a cup of yogurt supplies more than 400 milligrams. Also, calcium-fortified orange juice now provides 300 milligrams a cup, and fortified cereal bars can give you 200 milligrams.

  • Folic acid may help prevent heart disease -- and possibly colon cancer. The daily recommended amount of folate was recently increased to 400 micrograms daily (it's 500 micrograms for nursing moms).

Fortified breakfast cereals typically provide 100 to 400 micrograms per serving, while green leafy vegetables like cooked spinach (130 micrograms per half-cup) and cooked broccoli (40 micrograms per half-cup) are also good sources. Make sure that you never overcook folate-rich foods because the nutrient is easily lost in the cooking.

And though it's best to get your nutrients through your diet, Shield says, ask your doctor about a multivitamin if you think you're not getting the recommended amounts.

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