calcium 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 andvitamin 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:

Age Adequate Intake
(mg/day)
0-6 months 200
7 months-1 year 260
1-3 years 700
4-8 years 1,000
9-18 years 1,300
19-50 years 1,000
Men 51-70 years 1,000
Men 71 years or older 1,200
Women 51 years and older 1,200
Pregnant and breastfeeding teens 1,300
Pregnant and breastfeeding adults 1,000
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.

Food Portion size Amount of calcium
(mg)
Yogurt, plain low fat 1 cup 415
Milk, 2% 1 cup 293
Macaroni and cheese, frozen 1 package 323
Parmesan cheese, grated 1 tablespoon 55
Eggnog, nonalcoholic 1 cup 330
Chocolate milk, low fat 1 cup 290
Ricotta cheese, part skim ½ cup 335
Powdered milk 1/3 cup 283
Cheddar cheese 1 ounce 204
Swiss cheese 1 ounce 224
Provolone cheese 1 ounce 215
Cheese pizza 1 serving 113
Mozzarella cheese, part skim 1 ounce 207
American cheese 1 ounce 193
Cottage cheese, low fat 1 cup 206
Frozen yogurt, soft serve ½ cup 103
Ice cream ½ cup 84

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.

Food Portion size Amount of calcium
(mg)
Carnation breakfast bars 1 packet 500
Tofu, regular, processed with calcium ½ cup 253
Calcium-fortified soy milk 1 cup 250-300
Salmon, canned with edible bones 3 ounces 181
Calcium-fortified orange juice ¾ cup 200
Calcium-fortified dry cereal 1 cup 100-1,000
Blackstrap molasses 1 tablespoon 135
Pudding, ready to eat ½ cup 55
Dried figs 1 cup 300
Tofu, regular, processed without calcium ½ cup 130
Sardines with edible bones, in oil 3 ounces 325
Turnip greens, boiled ½ cup 100
Milk chocolate bar 1.5 ounces 85
Okra, boiled 1 cup 100
Temphe ½ cup 75
Kale, boiled ½ cup 61
Mustard greens, boiled 1 cup 40
Orange 1 medium 52
Pinto beans, cooked ½ cup 45
Tips 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 (eg, 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.