FACT: "Women in the United States have among the highest calcium intake levels in the world, but they also have some of the highest rates of osteoporosis," says Walter Willett, M.D., a nutritional epidemiologist at Harvard School of Public Health. While many women take the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of calcium (1,000mg to 1,200mg), studies show that taking supplements alone doesn't necessarily improve bone density or fracture risk. "Calcium is essential, but it's probably the case that women need less calcium and more vitamin D, unless they are exposed to lots of sunlight," says Dr. Willett. (Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium from the food we eat.) Plus, excess calcium (2,500mg or more per day) can interfere with bone repair because it prevents absorption of other nutrients, such as iron and zinc, that are also involved with bone formation. If you take a supplement, plus eat lots of dairy and calcium-fortified cereals or juices, you may be bordering on having too much.
ACTION TO TAKE: "Calcium pills are not mandatory, but a varied, healthy, fresh diet is," says Marion Nestle, Ph.D., a nutrition professor at New York University in Manhattan. Strive to meet your calcium needs through foods like kale, collard greens, broccoli, spinach, oranges, edamame, tofu, almonds, and sardines. Since studies show that 700 IU to 800 IU of vitamin D decreases fracture risk, find ways to include it in your diet as well (sources include egg yolks, D-fortified dairy products and O.J., canned tuna, and salmon). You can also meet your RDA by getting 10 to 15 minutes of sun three times a week. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables will ensure you also take in other nutrients that play a role in bone health, including vitamins K and C, zinc, phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium.