When we hear the word calcium, many of us instantly think of bones, dairy and even that “got milk?” commercial from back in the day. Although these thoughts and memories are associated with calcium, there are so many other thoughts that should come to mind, too! And that starts with understanding calcium’s function, role and responsibility when it comes to your health.
What is calcium?
Calcium is a mineral found in many different foods and food groups and can also be available as a dietary supplement. You’ll even find calcium present in some medicines. Did you know that calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body? Interestingly enough, calcium plays a crucial part in all stages of our life. Our body needs calcium in order to maintain strong bones, to carry bodily functions
What does calcium do?
Calcium is mostly stored (~99%) in bones and teeth, where it supports their structure and hardness. Bones undergo continuous remodeling, with constant absorption and deposit of calcium into new bone. The balance between bone absorption and deposit changes with age, which is why calcium requirements vary depending on age. The other 1% of calcium is needed for muscle contraction and for nerves to communicate messages between the brain and other body parts. Calcium also assists blood vessels to move blood throughout the body and to release hormones and enzymes that affect almost every function in the human body.
Research suggests that calcium, along with vitamin D, may have benefits beyond bone health, making them a perfect pair. Some studies suggest that this combination may protect against cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure. However, evidence of such health benefits is not definitive.
How much calcium do I need?
According to the National Institute of Health, the amount of calcium needed daily depends on your age and sex. Average daily recommended amounts are listed in milligrams (mg):
|Life Stage||Recommended Amount|
|Birth to 6 months||200 mg|
|Infants 7–12 months||260 mg|
|Children 1–3 years||700 mg|
|Children 4–8 years||1,000 mg|
|Children 9–13 years||1,300 mg|
|Teens 14–18 years||1,300 mg|
|Adults 19–50 years||1,000 mg|
|Adult men 51–70 years||1,000 mg|
|Adult women 51–70 years||1,200 mg|
|Adults 71 years and older||1,200 mg|
|Pregnant and breastfeeding teens||1,300 mg|
|Pregnant and breastfeeding adults||1,000 mg|
The recommended upper limit for calcium is 2,500mg a day for adults 19-50. Anyone 51 and older, the limit is 2,000mg a day.
What types of foods contain calcium?
Your body does not produce calcium therefore it must be obtained through your diet. Consuming a diverse diet inclusive of all food groups ensures that you’re meeting your calcium requirements. Here are some calcium-rich suggestions:
- Dairy products, such as milk, yogurt and cheese
- Dark leafy green vegetables, such as kale, broccoli and Chinese cabbage
- Fish with edible soft bones, such as canned sardines and salmon
- Calcium is added to some breakfast cereals, fruit juices, soy and rice beverages, milk substitutes and tofu.
The body also needs vitamin D to absorb calcium. You can get vitamin D from canned salmon with bones, egg yolks, fortified foods and sun exposure. The Recommended Daily Allowance for vitamin D is 600 international units (15 micrograms) a day for most adults, according to the National Institute of Health.
Sources of calcium
Many people are not able to consume dairy products for one reason or another, or have opted to follow a plant-based lifestyle. Guess what? Good sources of calcium can be found in almost all food groups! This abbreviated list can help you mix and match specific calcium-containing foods throughout the day to reach your daily value (DV).
|Food||Milligrams (mg) per serving||Percent DV|
|Parmesan cheese, 1 ounce||331||33%|
|Yogurt, plain, low fat, 8 ounces||415||32|
|Orange juice, calcium fortified, 1 cup||349||27|
|Mozzarella, part skim, 1.5 ounces||333||26|
|Sardines, canned in oil, with bones, 3 ounces||325||25|
|Cooked collard greens, 1 cup||266||25|
|Cheddar cheese, 1.5 ounces||307||24|
|Milk, nonfat, 1 cup||299||23|
|Soymilk, calcium fortified, 1 cup||299||23|
|Whey protein, 1 scoop||200||20|
|Tofu, firm, made with calcium sulfate, ½ cup||253||19|
|Salmon, pink, canned, solids with bone, 3 ounces||181||14|
|Poppy seed, 1 tablespoon||126||13|
|Amaranth, cooked, 1 cup||116||12|
|Cottage cheese, 1% milk fat, 1 cup||138||11|
|Tofu, soft, made with calcium sulfate, ½ cup||138||11|
|Breakfast cereals, fortified with 10% DV, 1 serving||130||10|
|Turnip greens, fresh, boiled, ½ cup||99||8|
|Kale, fresh, cooked, 1 cup||94||7|
|Chia seeds, 1 tablespoon||76||6|
|Chinese cabbage (bok choy), raw, shredded, 1 cup||74||6|
|Bread, white, 1 slice||73||6|
|Tortilla, corn, one, 6” diameter||46||4|
|Kale, raw, chopped, 1 cup||24||2|
|Broccoli, raw, ½ cup||21||2|
According to the U. S. Food and Drug Administration, the DV for calcium is 1,300 mg for adults and children 4 years and older. Foods providing 20% or more of the DV are considered to be high sources of calcium. Foods providing lower percentages contribute to a healthy meal plan as well.
Quick calcium snacks and meal ideas
Boost up your calcium and bone health with these tasty double-hitter dishes. Surprisingly, you may have some of these ingredients in your refrigerator or pantry. If not, plan a grocery trip soon!
The bottom line is that calcium needs can be met in a variety of ways and in a variety of foods. If you’ve ever found it to be a challenging to meet your calcium needs, now you have a whole list of diverse calcium foods to add to your daily routine.
Explore more nutrition advice from our team of experts.
Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.