Best known as the bone builder, not only does calcium help prevent osteoporosis – a bone-weakening disease that afflicts eight million women in the United States – it is used by every cell and tissue in the body. For example, it helps muscles contract, including those you use consciously (like your biceps) and those you use unconsciously (like your heart).
Recent studies show that consuming calcium can help both your heart and your waistline. A University of Tennessee study found that people who get their recommended daily allowance of calcium through dairy products burned fat faster than those who didn’t, and a study at the Harvard School of Public Health found a lower risk of hypertension in adult women who consumed the recommended amount of calcium daily.
The average woman over the age of 20 only gets about 858 milligrams a day, which is far less than the 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams recommended daily. It is also important to note that as you age your body becomes less adept at absorbing calcium, so once you reach age 51 or hit menopause, you should aim for a minimum of 1,200 milligrams.
Where can you get it from? A cup of nonfat milk has 302 milligrams and a low-fat yogurt has anywhere between 245 and 415 milligrams, but if you don’t eat a lot of dairy products, you can get your calcium from other foods too, including: sardines, cooked kale, raw broccoli, fortified juices and cereals, and many soy products.