Why do I need calcium?

Calcium is a mineral that the body needs to build strong bones and teeth. Calcium allows blood to clot normally, muscles and nerves to function properly, and the heart to beat normally. Most of the calcium in your body is found inside your bones.

What if I do not consume enough calcium?

If you do not consume enough calcium, your body begins to take calcium from your bones, decreasing your bone mass and putting you at risk for osteoporosis. Inadequate calcium intake may also increase your risk for high blood pressure.

How much calcium should I consume?

The following guidelines will help ensure that you are consuming enough calcium:

1.) Try to meet these recommended amounts of calcium each day (Recommended Dietary Allowances):

AgeMaleFemalePregnantLactating
0-6 months*200 mg200 mg
7-12 months*260 mg260 mg
1-3 years700 mg700 mg
4-8 years1,000 mg1,000 mg
9-13 years1,300 mg1,300 mg
14-18 years1,300 mg1,300 mg1,300 mg1,300 mg
19-50 years1,000 mg1,000 mg1,000 mg1,000 mg
51-70 years1,000 mg1,200 mg
71+ years1,200 mg1,200 mg

* adequate intake

2.) Eating and drinking two to four servings of dairy products and calcium-rich foods a day will help ensure that you are getting enough calcium in your daily diet. Please refer to the table (below) for examples of food sources of calcium.

3.) The best sources of calcium are dairy products, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and calcium-fortified beverages such as almond and soy milk. Calcium is also found in dark-green leafy vegetables, dried peas and beans, fish with bones, and calcium-fortified juices and cereals.

4.) Vitamin D will help your body use calcium. Some of your daily vitamin D can be obtained through regular exposure to the sun. Vitamin D is also found in fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and swordfish. Beef liver, cheese, mushrooms, and egg yolks also provide small amounts. Most milk is fortified with vitamin D; however, foods made from milk, like cheese and ice cream, are usually not fortified. Vitamin D is added to many breakfast cereals and to some brands of orange juice, yogurt, margarine, and milk alternatives; check the labels.

Reading food labels:

The amount of calcium in a product is listed as the percent of daily needs based on 1000 milligrams (mg) of calcium per day. To calculate the milligrams of calcium, just add a zero to the percent of calcium on the label. For example, if 1 cup of milk contains 30% of calcium needs, then it contains 300 milligrams of calcium (See food label below).

How can I get enough calcium if I am lactose-intolerant?

Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk. It causes cramping, gas, or diarrhea when dairy products are consumed. Lactose intolerance occurs because of the body’s lack of lactase, an enzyme needed to digest lactose.

Here are some suggestions to help you meet your calcium needs if you are lactose-intolerant:

  1. Try consuming lactose -free milk such as Lactaid®, or calcium-fortified soy, almond, or rice milk.
  2. You may be able to tolerate certain dairy products that contain less milk sugar, such as yogurt and cheese. Try lactose-free or low lactose cheese or cottage cheese or lactose-free yogurt.
  3. Talk to your dietitian about other lactose-reduced products.
  4. Eat non-dairy foods that are good sources of calcium, such as broccoli, dried peas and beans, kale, collard, dark green leafy vegetables, canned salmon with soft bones, sardines, calcium-enriched fruit juice, blackstrap molasses, almonds, and tofu processed with calcium.

Should I take a calcium supplement?

If you are having trouble consuming enough calcium-rich foods in your daily meal plan, talk to your physician and dietitian for suggestions.

The amount of calcium you will need from a supplement depends on how much calcium you are eating from food. Calcium supplements and some antacids containing calcium may help you meet your calcium needs. Many multi- vitamin supplements contain a limited amount of calcium. Protein powders contain variable amounts of calcium.

Factors that optimize calcium absorption:

  • Limit calcium supplements to 600 mg elemental calcium maximum at a time. Review the Nutrition Facts label, and review the serving size and amount of calcium that is provided for that serving size.
    • One calcium carbonate supplement typically provides 500-600 mg elemental calcium.
    • One calcium citrate supplement typically provides 200-300 mg elemental calcium.
  • Calcium carbonate is best absorbed when taken with food.
  • Calcium citrate is best absorbed with or without food.
  • Avoid taking calcium and iron supplements at the same time.

Sources of calcium

Dairy

Food (serving size)Calcium (mg)
Milk, cow's, 8 oz. (1 cup)250
Milk alternatives, calcium-fortified, 8 oz. (1 cup)200-250
Yogurt, 6 oz. (3/4 cup)250

Cheese, 1 oz. (1 cubic inch or 1 sice

Cottage cheese, 1 cup

Ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup

200

250

330

Pudding, 1/2 cup150
Ice creame, vanilla, soft serve, 1/2 cup125

Vegetables and fruit

Food (serving size)Calcium (mg)
Broccoli, chopped/cooked, 1 cup60
Kale, chopped/cooked, 1 cup95
Mustard greens, chopped/cooked, 1 cup125
Collard/turnip greens/*spinach, chopped/cooked, 1 cup122
Juices, calcium-fortified, 1/2 cup100

*Limited absorption

Protein

Food (serving size)Calcium (mg)
Tofu, processed with calcium, 1/2 cup200
Dried beans (soaked, cooked, or canned), 1 cup180
Salmon, canned, with bones, 3 oz.180
Sardines, canned, with bones, 2 fish92

Grain

Food (serving size)Calcium (mg)
Dry cereal, calcium-fortified, 3/4-1 cup100
Hot cereal, calcium-fortified, 1 cup150
English muffin, calcium-enriched, 1 piece100

Nuts, Seeds, Misc.

Food (serving size)Calcium (mg)
Almonds, whole, 1/4 cup100
Sesame seeds, whole dried, 1 Tbsp.88
Molasses, blackstrap, 1 Tbsp.65

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/01/2019.

References

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