Unfortunately, our bodies lose calcium every day.  The human body cannot produce its own calcium so it is essential that we keep our levels topped up by eating a healthy, balanced diet. 

There are many great, delicious sources of calcium. Dairy products such as cheese, milk, and yogurt are all great choices. For vegans, or those who are lactose intolerant there are also plenty of non-dairy options. Almonds and fortified products such as soy beverages offer excellent alternatives. In fact, there are many surprising sources of calcium. Salmon bones (found in tinned salmon), kale, black-eyed peas, oranges (yes, oranges!), bok choy, and dried figs are just some of the great non-dairy ways to get calcium into your diet. 

Benefits of supplements

Unlike calcium,  there are very few dietary means to get adequate vitamin D. It is estimated that about 90 percent of vitamin D intake comes from daily exposure to the sun but living in Canada means that our levels can dip dramatically, particularly in fall and winter. Thankfully, vitamin supplements are an affordable and simple way to make up for the shortfall. 

Andrea Miller is a Toronto-based registered dietitian and explains the importance of vitamin D and calcium for healthy bones. “I recommend vitamin D supplements to all my clients,” says Andrea. “If we use sunscreen — which we should — we block the conversion of the inactive form of vitamin D in the skin to the active form. We don’t make vitamin D in the winter at all,  because we’re too far away from the sun,  so supplements are a good choice.” 

Diet is the best approach

Without vitamin D, our bodies cannot form the hormone calcitriol — necessary for the absorption of calcium.  And, without calcium, our body ‘raids the cookie jar’ taking the calcium it needs directly from our skeleton — weakening our bones in the process. While vitamin D supplements are a good choice, the same doesn’t apply to calcium. “You can get calcium through supplements but absorption is far higher through diet” says Andrea. “And getting calcium from food often comes with additional nutrients.”

Getting the right amount

According to Osteoporosis Canada, adults under 50 that are pregnant and breastfeeding women should have 1000mg of calcium, (a 250ml serving of milk contains 300mg of calcium) and 400 to 1,000 International Units (IU) of vitamin D daily. Adults over 50 should up the level of calcium to 1,200mg and between 800 to 2,000 IU of vitamin D. 

Getting the right amounts of calcium and vitamin D is essential to offset future health problems like osteoporosis. At least one-in-three women and one-in-five men will suffer from a fracture as a result of osteoporosis in their lifetime; and with peak bone mass achieved as early as 16-20 in young women and 20-25 in young men, it’s important that good habits, just like strong bones,  are formed early.