Remember how your mother used to nag you to eat your vegetables, and now that you’re a parent, you do it to your kids? On top of all the benefits of eating vegetables, there is something you may not know – by eating greens, you are tapping into an excellent source of calcium.
According to Emily Rubin, RD, a clinical dietician at the Jefferson Digestive Disease Institute, the average adult should have 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day for healthy bones. And, after menopause, women need about 1,500 milligrams per day because they are at a higher risk for osteoporosis.
Fortunately, there are lots of food choices that are high in calcium: low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese and fortified cereals, among others. “Dark leafy vegetables are a rich source of minerals, including iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium, as well as vitamins, such as K, C, E and many of the B vitamins. Vegetables also provide antioxidants that protect our cells from damage,” Rubin says. “They’re also low in calories and high in fiber, so they’re great for weight loss, too,” she explains.
Toss in some greens
If you aren’t used to eating a lot of greens, try “sneaking” them into your daily diet. Rubin says it’s easy to incorporate more leafy greens into foods you’re already enjoying.
“Add romaine lettuce to your sandwich, toss more broccoli into a vegetable soup or mix spinach into ground meat when you’re making burgers or meatballs,” she suggests. “You can even add greens to pasta meals. Cook some up with pasta, incorporate sautéed spinach with garlic or simply choose spinach ravioli.”
A half-cup of cooked spinach provides 120 milligrams of calcium, while boiled turnip greens provide 99 milligrams, cooked kale delivers 94 milligrams and raw Chinese cabbage gives you 74 milligrams.
Other ways to build bone
Eating foods that are good sources of calcium and vitamin D is one important way to build your bones. But Rubin emphasizes exercising at least a half-hour a day – ideally through weight-bearing workouts such as walking, lifting or dancing – and not smoking are also great ways to ensure your bone health.
For those of us that may not be persuaded to eat our vegetables no matter what, Rubin says that if you choose to take a calcium supplement, consider calcium citrate with vitamin D3: “If you and your doctor decide that calcium supplementation is right for you, you may want to take it three times a day – 500 milligrams at a time.”
“Calcium is best absorbed if taken in small amounts,” she concludes.
Of course, be sure to consult your doctor for specific advice about your health and any supplements you may want to add to your diet.