Eat a Diet Rich in Calcium
En Español (Spanish Version)

Here's Why:

Calcium is the most prevalent mineral in the human body. It plays an important role in maintaining good health. For example:

  • Calcium is essential to build and maintain strong bones at all stages of life, and therefore help prevent and/or manage osteoporosis. Calcium may also help with weight loss. In addition, research suggests that calcium and vitamin D supplementation may help to optimize blood glucose metabolism.
  • Calcium helps reduce your risk for these serious health conditions:
The recommended intakes for calcium are:

AgeAdequate Intake (mg/day) 0-6 months2007 months-1 year2601-3 years7004-8 years1,0009-18 years1,30019-50 years1,000Men 51-70 years1,000Men 71 years or older1,200Women 51 years and older1,200 Pregnant and breastfeeding teens 1,300 Pregnant and breastfeeding adults1,000
Here's How:
Food Sources of Calcium
Dairy foods—milk, yogurt, and some cheeses—are the best dietary sources of calcium. These foods are also rich in vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium.

FoodPortion size Amount of calcium (mg) Yogurt, plain low fat1 cup415Milk, 2%1 cup285Parmesan cheese, grated1 tablespoon55Eggnog, nonalcoholic1 cup330Chocolate milk, low fat1 cup288Ricotta cheese, part skim½ cup335Powdered milk1/3 cup283Cheddar cheese1 ounce204Swiss cheese1 ounce224Provolone cheese1 ounce214Cheese pizza1 serving113Mozzarella cheese, part skim1 ounce207American cheese1 ounce156Cottage cheese, low fat 2%1 cup156Frozen yogurt, soft serve½ cup103Ice cream½ cup84
Absorption of calcium from some other dietary sources is not as great as that from dairy foods. Specifically, dark green vegetables contain oxalates, and grains contain phytates, which can bind with calcium and decrease their absorption. However, these foods still provide a good way to add calcium to your diet. Some examples of green vegetables that are good calcium sources are kale, broccoli, and Chinese cabbage.

Read the Nutrition Facts label on tofu and fortified products to determine specific calcium levels of these foods.

FoodPortion size Amount of calcium (mg) Carnation breakfast bars1 packet250Tofu, regular, processed with calcium salt½ cup253Calcium-fortified soy milk1 cup200-400Salmon, canned with edible bones3 ounces181Calcium-fortified orange juice1 cup300Calcium-fortified dry cereal½-1 cup100-1,000Blackstrap molasses1 tablespoon135Pudding, ready to eat½ cup55Dried figs1 cup300Sardines with edible bones, in oil3 ounces325Turnip greens, boiled½ cup100Okra, boiled1 cup100Temphe½ cup75Kale, cooked1 cup94Mustard greens, cooked1 cup40Orange1 medium60Pinto beans, cooked½ cup39Tips for Increasing Your Calcium Intake
  • When making oatmeal or other hot cereal, use milk instead of water.
  • Add powdered milk to hot cereal, casseroles, baked goods, and other hot dishes.
  • Make your own salad dressing by combining low-fat plain yogurt with herbs.
  • Add tofu (processed with calcium) to soups and pasta sauce.
  • If you like fish, eat canned fish, such as salmon or sardines, with soft bones on crackers or bread.
  • For dessert, try low-fat frozen yogurt, ice cream, or pudding.
  • In baked goods, replace half of the fat with plain yogurt.
Dealing with Lactose Intolerance
Some people have difficulty digesting lactose, which is the main sugar in milk and some dairy products. This occurs when the body does not produce enough of the enzyme lactase to properly digest lactose. People with this condition, called lactose intolerance, may experience nausea, cramping, bloating, abdominal pain, gas, and diarrhea. This can occur anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours after eating milk or milk products.

If you have lactose intolerance, take the following steps to be sure you meet your calcium needs:

  • Eat dairy foods along with a meal rather than alone; the presence of other foods in the digestive tract can make it easier for your body to tolerate the lactose.
  • Eat smaller portions of dairy foods. Many people find that they are able to tolerate ½ cup or ¾ cup of milk at a time, several times during the day, rather than 1 cup or more in one sitting.
  • Choose aged cheeses, such as Swiss, Colby, Parmesan, and cheddar, which have most of their lactose removed during processing.
  • Try dairy foods made with live, active cultures, such as yogurt and buttermilk. The "friendly" bacteria in these foods help to digest the lactose. These foods should have a "Live and Active Cultures" label.
  • Be sure to include nondairy sources of calcium in your daily diet.
Taking Supplements
If you are unable to meet your calcium needs through dietary sources, ask your doctor if you should take a calcium supplement. The two main types of supplements are carbonate and citrate. Calcium carbonate (Tums and Rolaids) is best taken with food. Calcium citrate can be taken with or without food, and may have better absorption in people older than 50 years old. Some points to remember when choosing and using a calcium supplement include:

  • Since the amount of calcium differs among products, check the label.
  • Check your vitamin D intake too. This vitamin is essential for absorption of calcium. Milk is a great source of vitamin D, as is sunlight.
  • If you take both calcium and iron supplements, take them at different times of the day, because they can impair each other's absorption.
  • If you take more than 500 mg of supplemental calcium, space it out throughout the day; it is better absorbed that way.

Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Office of Dietary Supplements

Dietitians of Canada

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7/6/2006 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance Villar J, Abdel-Aleem H, et al. World Health Organization randomized trial of calcium supplementation among low calcium intake pregnant women. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2006;194(3):639-649.

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Last Reviewed March 2015

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