Why calcium is so important for women

May 11, 2012 at 4:45 p.m. ET

Calcium is an important mineral for strong, healthy bones. If you're not getting enough from your regular diet, here's how you can supplement wisely.

Woman drinking milk

While it's important that everyone meet their calcium requirements, it's especially critical for women to get enough of this mineral. Why? When you're in your teenage years and young adulthood and getting enough calcium from your diet, you help ensure your bones reach their optimal bone density (in other words, your bones get as strong and healthy as they can be). But in your 50s and up, you need calcium to help reduce your risk of osteoporosis. How much do you need? It all depends on your age. According Osteoporosis Canada, here are the daily requirements for different age groups:

Ages 4 to 8, 19 to 50 and pregnant or lactating women 18 and older require 1,000 milligrams daily.

Ages 9 to 18 require 1,300 milligrams daily.

If you're over 50, you need 1,200 milligrams daily.

Consider a calcium supplement

You may think your multivitamin covers your calcium needs, but have a look at the label. While it may offer some calcium, chances are the amount does not meet your recommended daily allowance. Calcium in and of itself is a large supplement, and it's difficult for manufacturers to include the daily allowance in a multivitamin. So it's best you take a calcium supplement as well. Of course, you don't necessarily need to take a separate calcium supplement if you are certain you're getting enough calcium every day from the foods you eat, but if you want to be extra sure, a supplement isn't a bad idea.

Take a vitamin D supplement too

Why are vitamin D and calcium often paired up? Because vitamin D (a.k.a. the sunshine vitamin, since the sun triggers our bodies to produce vitamin D) helps your body absorb calcium. So in fact, taking a calcium supplement without taking a vitamin D supplement is a waste of time, effort and money. How much vitamin D should you take? Osteoporosis Canada recommends 400 to 1,000 IU daily.

Get calcium through your diet

Dairy foods are the obvious choice: milk, cheese and yogourt all provide calcium. Products such as soy milk and orange juice are commonly fortified with calcium. Some vegetables (such as kale and spinach) and fish with bones (think canned salmon or sardines) also provide calcium.

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