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Calcium: Are You Getting Enough?

 

Calcium: Are You Getting Enough?

Calcium is necessary for strong bones, but it also plays other important roles in the body.  To be sure you’re getting enough of this vital nutrient, here are the best food sources, and the amount you should eat, to achieve and maintain good health.

What is calcium?

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. About 99 percent of the calcium in our bodies is found in our bones and teeth, but calcium is also present in nerve cells, tissues and even blood.

Why do you need calcium?

Calcium helps build and maintain healthy bones and teeth. Getting enough calcium in your diet can help prevent osteoporosis, a type of bone disease that causes bones to become fragile and break. But, we need calcium for other things, too, such as:

  • Blood clotting
  • Sending and receiving nerve signals
  • Helping muscles to contract
  • Helping the heart beat
  • Releasing hormones and enzymes

Interestingly, one study has shown that getting enough calcium early in life might prevent against obesity. In addition, women who consume a calcium-rich diet might live longer than those who are calcium deficient.

What happens if you don’t get enough calcium?

Calcium deficiency can occur from not getting enough calcium in the diet. Certain medical conditions can also cause low levels of calcium, such as kidney disease, surgical removal of the stomach, and medications like diuretics. Over time, a calcium deficiency can lead to a condition called osteopenia (low bone density) and, eventually, osteoporosis. 

How much calcium do you need?

Many people don’t get enough calcium. But what’s the right amount for you? The amount that you need depends on your age and your sex.

Women Daily Recommended Allowance Daily Upper Limit
19-50 years 1000 milligrams 2500 milligrams
51 and older 1200 milligrams 2000 milligrams

 

Men Daily Recommended Allowance Daily Upper Limit
19-50 years 1000 milligrams 2500 milligrams
51-70 years 1000 milligrams 2000 milligrams
71 and older 1200 milligrams 2000 milligrams

It’s always best to check with your health care provider or dietitian to find out the amount of calcium that’s best for you.

What foods contain calcium?

Some of the best sources of calcium are dairy foods, such as milk, yogurt and cheese.  But not everyone can consume dairy. Luckily, other foods contain calcium, too. Here are the best foods to eat to help you get enough calcium.

Food Amount of Calcium (milligrams)
1 cup plain yogurt 415
1 ½ oz. mozzarella cheese 333
3 oz. sardines 325
1 ½ oz. cheddar cheese 307
8 oz. fortified soy milk 299
½ cup firm tofu 253
3 oz. salmon, with bones 181
1 cup calcium-fortified cereal 100-1000
1 cup raw kale 100
¼ cup almonds 95
1 cup cooked kale 95
1 tablespoon sesame seeds 88
1 cup chick peas 80
1 cup pinto beans 75
1 cup raw bok choy 74

Your body needs vitamin D to absorb – and use – the calcium that you’re eating, so make sure that you’re taking enough. Some foods, like milk, are fortified with vitamin D, and you can also get this vitamin from salmon and eggs. However, because it can be hard to get enough vitamin D from food sources alone, you might want to ask your health care provider about taking a supplement.

 What about calcium supplements?

Some people benefit from a calcium supplement. You might consider taking a supplement if you:

  • Follow a vegan diet
  • Have lactose intolerance
  • Have osteoporosis
  • Take corticosteroids
  • Have certain digestive conditions or bowel diseases

Before you take a calcium supplement, talk with your health are provider. Getting too much calcium can be harmful, and calcium supplements have been linked with an increased risk of heart disease.

Amy Campbell MS, RD, LDN, CDE (85 Articles)

Amy Campbell MS, RD, LDN, CDE is an experienced health, nutrition and diabetes educator and communicator with more than 25 years of experience within the healthcare sector. Amy has extensive expertise in editing and writing for patients, consumers and healthcare professionals; public speaking, teaching and group facilitation; project and account management; and content and curriculum development.

 

She is currently the Director for Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures LLC, a Health Professional Advisor at the Egg Nutrition Center, and a blogger/Writer for Madavor Media.

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