Everywhere you turn, there’s advice on what, how, and when to eat. It can feel totally overwhelming—but it doesn’t have to be all that complicated. The first step to achieving a balanced diet is to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, protein, and whole grains, says Crystal Karakochuk, assistant professor at the University of British Columbia’s department of food, nutrition, and health. Then be sure to get enough of the minerals and vitamins that will help you feel vibrant through mid-life.
Calcium is a mineral we store mostly in our bones and teeth to keep them strong and healthy. Some calcium is also needed for muscle function and to help our nerves send messages from the brain to other parts of the body.
It’s important for all women to get enough calcium in their diet. “You want to make sure you keep your bone integrity healthy,” says Shauna Lindzon, a registered dietitian in Toronto. Health Canada recommends women under age 50 get 1,000 mg of calcium per day and women over 50 get 1,200 mg of calcium per day.
Calcium is often associated with a glass of milk—that’s because 250 mL of milk has 300 mg of calcium in it, or almost a third of your daily requirement. But if drinking milk is not your thing, you can turn to other types of dairy, like cheese and yogurt, for a quick calcium fix.
If you avoid dairy, it’s a bit harder to get enough calcium, but not impossible, Lindzon says. Milk alternatives like almond, soy, and oat milk are typically fortified with calcium at the same levels you’d find in the equivalent amount of cow’s milk. Other foods, like canned sardines and canned salmon, vegetables like bok choy, and nuts, seeds, legumes, and lentils all contain calcium. But with these foods, says Lindzon, you really need to focus on making sure you get enough into your diet on a daily basis to meet your calcium requirement. “I recommend that people who aren’t drinking cow’s milk explore the milk alternatives, because it makes it a lot easier to get up to the 1,000 milligrams.”
Vitamin D is a nutrient our bodies produce when exposed to sunlight; it’s found naturally in and added to some foods. It helps your body absorb calcium, to keep your bones strong, and also supports your immune system. “It’s such a complex nutrient—it’s doing so many things on so many different levels,” says Karakochuk.
Samara Felesky-Hunt, a registered dietitian in Calgary, adds that vitamin D may also reduce your risk for certain cancers, like colon, breast, and prostate cancer.
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