sources of calcium

Are you eating (and absorbing) enough calcium?

foot bone x-ray

What's the big deal about calcium?
Without it, you and I would be shapeless blobs!

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body with 99% of our supply being stored in our bones and teeth to support their structure and function. (Another 1% of body calcium is needed for blood vessels, muscles and nerves, and to help cells release hormones.)

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Unfortunately, many of us are not getting enough calcium from our diet. Groups most at risk of calcium deficiency are:

• Girls, aged 9-18     • Women over the age of 50     • Men over age 70

The bottom line: Over periods of years, if we don't take in enough calcium we're a sitting duck for osteopenia (the pre-osteoporosis condition that means your bones are weakening and becoming brittle). Osteopenia, if untreated, leads to osteoporosis

Are YOU getting enough calcium?

The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Calcium are:

Age Male Female Pregnant Lactating
0-6 months* 200 mg 200 mg
7-12 months* 260 mg 260 mg
1-3 years 700 mg 700 mg
4-8 years 1,000 mg 1,000 mg
9-13 years 1,300 mg 1,300 mg
14-18 years 1,300 mg 1,300 mg 1,300 mg 1,300 mg
19-50 years 1,000 mg 1,000 mg 1,000 mg 1,000 mg
51-70 years 1,000 mg 1,200 mg
71+ years 1,200 mg 1,200 mg
* Adequate Intake

How do we make certain that we're getting enough calcium daily? Eat up!

The easiest way to get calcium is by eating dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese.

But what if you are lactose intolerant or don't like dairy? Other suitable sources of calcium include:

  • Certain veggies including broccoli, kale and Chinese cabbage are good vegetarian sources.
  • Lactose intolerant individuals may also want to consider lactose-reduced fortified milk or more easily digested forms of milk such as yogurt and some goat milk and cheeses. If you like to eat some dairy but still experience symptoms, you can try an over-the counter lactose enzyme to take with dairy. This will give you the enzyme to break down the lactose. But dairy is hardly the only powerhouse source of calcium.
  • Pass the calcium supplement: If you don't take in enough calcium, no worries: your body will just get what it needs by taking it from your bones. Oh, were you using those?

Best food sources for calcium

Milk and Milk Products Calcium Content
Yogurt, with active and live cultures, plain, low-fat, vitamin D-fortified, 1 cup 415 mg
Milk, reduced fat, vitamin D-fortified, 1 cup 285 mg
Swiss cheese, 1 oz. 224 mg
Cottage cheese, 1/2 cup 87 mg
Ice cream, 1/2 cup 84 mg
Non-milk Products  
Rhubarb, frozen, cooked, 1 cup 348 mg
Sardines, with bone, 3 oz. 325 mg
Spinach, frozen, cooked, 1 cup 291 mg
Salmon, canned, with bone, 3 oz. 181 mg
Soy milk, unfortified, 1 cup 61 mg
Orange, 1 medium 52 mg
Broccoli, raw, 1 cup 41 mg
Pinto beans, cooked, 1/2 cup 40 mg
Lettuce greens, 1 cup 20 mg
Tuna, white, canned, 3 oz. 12 mg
Other Considerations

Drinking lots of coffee and colas may lead to soft bones. Research suggests that it may be the caffeine rather than the carbonation in sodas that's the problem. In fact, certain carbonated mineral waters appear to support bone health.

Your body can't absorb a full day's worth of calcium in just one meal. In order to get the Recommended Daily Allowance, you must eat food-based sources of calcium several times a day -- ideally 6 to 8 hours apart.

A word about calcium supplements: If you opt to take a calcium supplement, calcium carbonate must be taken with meals for optimal absorption. Calcium citrate can be taken with or without food.

calcium topic Even if you're consuming enough calcium, you may not be absorbing it. Vitamin D makes all the difference

Only when enough vitamin D is present, will the calcium you eat be thoroughly metabolized. Most people with calcium deficiency do not get enough vitamin D. Besides the obvious combination calcium-vitamin D supplement, there are many other sources of vitamin D. Sources besides sunlight include fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, egg yolks, liver, and vitamin D fortified milk products.

Note: even if you need to use a calcium and vitamin D supplement, you must still strive to eat a vitamin and mineral rich diet. The foods high in calcium and vitamin D are also packed with other important nutrients so it makes sense to eat as much as you can of them!

calcium topic And speaking of bone health, be sure to exercise your bones daily

Once you're eating and absorbing adequate calcium, take an extra measure to build and preserve strong bones by working your bones daily. Participate in exercises that put force (a slight amount of pounding) on the bones such as walking, jogging, jumping rope, bouncing on a trampoline, dancing or playing tennis. how much calcium do we needExercises that are less helpful for building bone strength, but still wonderful for overall health and fitness, would be bicycling or swimming -- since they cushion the force put on bones.

Sources (Accessed May 17, 2012):
Prevention magazine, June 2012. Stay stronger longer.

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Feedback for Best Food Sources of CalciumAdd Comment
Showing comment(s)
calcium topic Jose
November 23, 2016
Is it possible to take too much calcium?
Neil at
November 30, 2016
There is apparently no benefit to taking more than the amount of calcium recommended for your gender and age group. And, yes, there may be downsides. According to doctors at Cleveland Clinic, excess calcium (especially from supplements versus foods) may contribute to everything from muscle and stomach pain, mood disorders and kidney stones to arterial plaque that can lead to heart attack and stroke. So, play it safe. Try to calculate your daily calcium intake from foods and, after that, take only the amount of supplement needed to hit your target number.

One more point on this topic is that calcium supplements may interfere with some medications so it's best to talk with your pharmacist. They may have suggestions on when's the best time for you to take your calcium supplements.
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