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Ask Tufts Experts July 2017 Issue

Q. We're often told food sources of calcium are best, but calcium-fortified foods are often included in this advice. How are calcium-fortified foods any better than calcium supplements?

A. Bess Dawson-Hughes, MD, director of Tufts' HNRCA Bone Metabolism Laboratory, answers: "Food fortification is a long-standing and safe approach to boost intake of selected nutrients (for example, milk is fortified with vitamin D). For vegans and individuals who do not tolerate or care for dairy foods, which are the main sources of dietary calcium in the US, it can be challenging to meet the calcium requirement each day. The availability of healthful calcium-fortified foods, such as soy milk, tofu, whole-grain cereal and juice (in moderation) can be useful to these individuals. Including such foods is far better than having a calcium-deficient diet.

"Calcium is better absorbed and utilized if consumed in smaller amounts spread out during the day. Calcium-fortified foods typically contain smaller amounts of calcium than dedicated supplements. And, although people tend to focus on calcium and vitamin D for bone health, many other nutrients, such as potassium, magnesium, zinc, vitamin C and vitamin K, also are important for bones. These nutrients are best obtained as part of a healthful dietary pattern, which can include calcium-fortified foods."

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