Calcium: 10 Different (and Tasty) Sources

Patient Expert

Calcium: you know you need it. It's critical to bone health. And since you're reading these words, clearly you're concerned with your bones - or those of a loved one.

Calcium (plus its best friend, vitamin D), are absolutely critical to bone health. Bones (though we may think of them as simply a dead white skeleton hanging in the doctor's office) are actually a living, breathing part of our body. They're constantly changing: new cells being born, old ones dying. Made of protein and collagen (connective tissue), they're fortified with calcium: the "cement" holding things together. Without that cement, bones become weak; they break.

Bad news.

The good news is, it's fairly easy to supply your body with the calcium it needs to keep your bones healthy. A daily supplement can do the trick - but it's not the optimum path to sufficient calcium. Your body can only absorb so much calcium at a time; if you take a 1000mg tablet, you're getting just half the benefit.

Calcium is only useful in smaller doses. Ideally, taken throughout the day. In the food you eat.

Don't get me wrong - supplements are good. But that's just what they should do: supplement the amounts of calcium you're already getting from the meals and snacks you eat throughout the day. So, make sure your diet - not just the vitamins you take - is supplying you with calcium.

By now, we all know the basic high-calcium foods: dairy; and fortified breakfast foods, namely cereal and orange juice. These, and other tried-and-true foods in a calcium-rich diet are covered in our post, 10 Easy Ways to Add Calcium to Your Diet.

But if you're ready to think outside the (cereal) box, there are plenty of other ways to get your daily calcium beyond a bowl of Total and a glass of skim milk. Open your mind to the wide range of tasty, calcium-rich possibilities out there - like the following 10 "unexpected" sources.

Do you like Greek food? If the answer is "yes" (or "Don't know, never had any"), you'll love cool, refreshing tzatziki. Made from thick, Greek-style yogurt and cucumbers, with a touch of garlic and/or mint, it's wonderful atop fish or meat; added to a pita bread sandwich, or enjoyed as a side salad. Sound good? Try this easy tzatziki recipe.

French toast
Simple enough - but how many of us ever think to make it? Sure, we may order it at IHOP, but serve it at home? French toast seems to get lost in the morning rush.

Listen up: there's nothing difficult about whisking 1 egg into ¼ cup milk, pouring the liquid into a shallow dish, using it to coat/soak 2 slices of (calcium-fortified) bread, then frying said bread in a lightly greased frying pan. Butter (optional, but another source of calcium) and maple syrup complete the picture. Need inspiration? Check out these French toast recipes.

Macaroni and cheese
Who doesn't love the ultimate comfort food, mac and cheese? Cheese and milk are calcium-rich, and when you choose pasta fortified with calcium, you're well on your way to your daily requirement.

Look for Ronzoni Smart Taste elbows: one serving has about 300mg calcium, plus vitamin D and fiber. And if you're looking for a tasty recipe, try this Garlic-Herb Mac & Cheese.

Grilled cheese sandwich
Another irresistible childhood favorite. Again, choose calcium-fortified bread. While many of us scoff at Wonder Bread, it's a nostalgic choice for grilled cheese. And Wonder SmartWhite Bread is fortified with calcium - 104mg per slice, 208mg in a sandwich, about 1/6 of your daily requirement even before you add the cheese.

And how about that cheese? Swiss cheese is top-ranked for calcium content, with 272mg per ounce. Cheddar checks in at 204mg/ounce. And the classic orange or white American cheese? 174mg/ounce.

Many types of nuts are good for you There's evidence they lower cholesterol and improve heart health, and they're packed with the "good" fats your body needs, as well as Omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, the FDA has approved a heart-health claim for almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, some types of pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts.

Of the FDA-approved nuts above, almonds are highest in calcium, with 72mg per ounce (about 20 to 24 nuts). About 1 ½ ounces per day offers heart-healthy benefits - though remember, nuts are high in calories, so you need to figure them into your daily diet, not just eat them by the handful.

I enjoy 14 almonds at breakfast every morning. But not just plain old almonds: I'm nuts for Blue Diamond's "Bold Flavors" line of flavored almonds, with Wasabi Soy Sauce my current favorite. Try Salt 'n Vinegar, Lime 'n Chili, Jalapeño Smokehouse, Blazin' Buffalo Wing, Habañero BBQ, and more.

Ricotta cheese
Remember the South Beach diet? I followed it for a year or so, and revert to it whenever I want to lose a few pounds. And there's one part of it I've never quit: their suggestion for a simple ricotta dessert. Scoop ½ cup part-skim ricotta cheese into a bowl. Sweeten to taste. Add ¼ to ½ teaspoon vanilla extract.

Simple. Easy. Ridiculously tasty. And packed with calcium: 337mg, over 25% of your daily requirement.

Instant oatmeal
But, aren't steel-cut oats or traditional rolled oats better for you? Not necessarily. Instant oatmeal - you know, the kind in the little packets, often flavored with apples and cinnamon, or raisins and spice - is fortified with calcium: 100mg per serving. Sweeten with a tablespoon of dark blackstrap molasses, and you'll add 172mg additional calcium, bringing you nearly ¼ of the way to the normal adult's daily calcium requirement.

Eda" who? Soybeans, just as they come from the pod. These crisp, tasty beans look like tiny limas - and they're surprisingly compelling, even for those who don't love beans. I was introduced to edamame (ed-uh-MOM-ay) at a Japanese restaurant, where they're served steamed, in the pod, heavily salted. You happily pop the beans out of the pod into your mouth, licking your salty fingers.

1 cup edamame: 300mg calcium. A win-win.

They're on everyone's list of health foods, aren't they? Packed with fiber and protein, they're nutritional powerhouses. But beans are so" boring.

Alone, maybe. But spice them up, and they take on a whole new life. And I don't just mean baked beans, or bean salad. Navy or white beans (find them canned, on your supermarket shelf) are high in calcium, with 127mg per cup of whole beans. They're also fiber-rich: nearly 12g per cup.

Make a healthy, delicious spread for crackers or toasted pita chips by turning navy beans into a simple hummus: just combine drained canned beans, garlic, a touch of olive oil, and salt, and whirl in a blender or food processor. Cumin is your spice of choice here. Try this simple hummus recipe, substituting navy beans for chickpeas.

Oh, no; not the dreaded" TOFU. It's true, you see tofu mentioned a lot in vegetarian cookbooks, where it's recognized as a key non-animal source of protein and iron. Beyond that, tofu is high in selenium, magnesium and, yes, calcium: there's 258mg calcium in just half a cup of firm tofu.

What is tofu, exactly? A.k.a. bean curd (and often known as "the cheese of Asia"), tofu is made the same way all cheeses are made: by coagulating milk, then pressing the resulting curds into a firm block. Only difference is, tofu starts with soy milk, rather than cow, goat, or sheep's milk.

Tofu is basically tasteless. Which means it can take on whatever flavor you want it to. Firm or extra-firm tofu, the highest-calcium type, is perfect for dicing in cubes, and tossing into a stir-fry, a curry, or stew.

Note to skeptics: You don't HAVE to be a vegetarian to enjoy tofu. I love a juicy grilled hamburger, but I also eat tofu for breakfast. I slice it about ½" thick, marinate briefly in a mixture of soy sauce and flavored olive oil, and quickly sauté in a skillet.

The result? A savory, warm breakfast, lovely with a piece of buttered toast.   And a calcium-friendly way to start my day.

Remember, there's more to a calcium-rich diet than cereal, milk, and OJ. Do yourself (and your bones) a favor; seek out new ways to increase your calcium intake: starting now, starting here. Enjoy