Are You Getting Enough Calcium?

Calcium gives strength to your bones and is necessary for blood clotting and the proper function of nerves and muscles. This publication can help make sure that you are getting enough.
Are You Getting Enough Calcium? - Articles
Are You Getting Enough Calcium?

You have seen the “milk mustache” on some of your favorite stars, but are you sporting your own? Milk is a good source of calcium and studies show that 8 out of 10 teens do not get enough calcium in their diets.

Calcium is a mineral that gives strength to your bones. In fact, it is the main substance in bone. Calcium is necessary for many of your body’s functions, such as blood clotting and the proper function of nerves and muscles. During the adolescent years (particularly ages 11–15), your bones are developing quickly—nearly half of all bone is formed during these years. Your bones store calcium so that your skeleton will be strong later in life. If your body does not get the calcium it needs from your diet, it takes calcium from the only source that it has: your bones. This can lead to brittle bones later in life and broken bones at any time.

Osteoporosis is a bone disease that develops slowly over the years. It can run in families, and it can also result from getting too little calcium in the diet. Osteoporosis results in brittle bones, risk for broken bones, shortened height due to collapse of spinal bones, and an increased chance of a hunched back.

Osteoporosis can be prevented. There are some risk factors that you cannot change (like your race or gender), but there are some you can.

Several factors that put a young person at risk for osteoporosis are:

  • white race
  • being female
  • irregular periods
  • little or no exercise
  • low amount of calcium in the diet
  • below normal weight
  • family history of osteoporosis
  • smoking
  • heavy intake of alcohol

So, eat a healthy diet, get some exercise, and don’t smoke.

Nutritionists recommend four high-calcium food servings a day for teens. Each 8-ounce glass of milk (whether skim, 1%, 2%, or whole) and each cup of yogurt has about 300 milligrams of calcium. Children and teenagers between the ages of 9 and 18 should aim for 1,300 milligrams per day. Adults 19 to 50 years of age should aim for 1,000 milligrams per day.

You probably know that milk and cheese are good sources of calcium, but did you know that tofu and beans contain calcium, too? If you are a vegetarian who doesn’t drink milk or eat cheese, you can get the calcium you need from other foods. See the list of high-calcium foods at the end of this article.

If tests have shown that you are unable to digest the lactose sugar in milk, there are other ways to get calcium. These include Lactaid milk (the lactase enzyme that you are missing has been added into the milk) and lactase enzyme tablets that you can take before eating dairy products. The enzyme tablets help to digest the lactose sugar in the milk. Some people who are lactose intolerant can tolerate small amounts of milk or other dairy products at a time.

Here are some suggestions for getting more calcium


  • Have a bowl of cereal with milk. Use milk instead of water when making hot oatmeal.
  • Drink calcium-fortified orange juice.
  • Make a healthy breakfast shake with 1 cup of milk and a handful of frozen fruit.
  • Add cheese to your bagel. (All cheeses have calcium, but cream cheese is actually not a great source of calcium or protein.)


  • Choose milk instead of soda at school. If you don’t like plain milk, try chocolate or strawberry milk.
  • Pack a yogurt with your lunch.
  • Add cheese to your sandwich.


  • If you like coffee-flavored drinks, try a milk-rich latte (decaf is best).
  • Look for cereal bars or energy bars that contain calcium. Check the label to see if calcium is listed.
  • Make hot cocoa with milk instead of water.
  • Eat broccoli dipped in a veggie dip made with plain yogurt.
  • Snack on mozzarella cheese sticks or almonds.
  • Have a yogurt as an after-school snack.


  • Make macaroni and cheese with milk or chowder-style soups.
  • Prepare canned tomato soup with milk instead of water.
  • Try tofu. (Really, it’s the rage!)
  • Include more beans (legumes) in your meals.
  • Make lasagna or other pasta dishes with ricotta cheese.
  • Eat pizza!
  • Have pudding made with milk or frozen yogurt for dessert.

Milk is a good source of calcium and studies show that 8 out of 10 teens do not get enough calcium in their diets.

Food is the best way to get enough calcium, but some teens find it difficult to fit in four good servings of high- calcium foods daily. If you don’t like dairy foods or orange juice (the new calcium-fortified kind makes it easier for teens that don’t like milk), then supplements are available. Calcium citrate and calcium carbonate are most popular. Most tablets have 200 to 500 milligrams of calcium. Remember your goal is 1,000–1,300 milligrams of calcium per day.

Your bones are developing quickly—nearly half of all bone is formed during the adolescent years.

Make sure that you take your calcium supplements at different times of the day. Your body can only absorb about 400 milligrams of calcium at a time, so it is best to spread the supplements out if you have to take more than one per day.

Most basic multivitamin/mineral tablets have very little calcium in them. Avoid “oyster shell” or “natural source” calcium supplements. These may contain high levels of lead or aluminum and are not recommended.

Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium. We get vitamin D from sunlight and from vitamin-D-fortified milk. If you live in the northern United States, you may not get enough sunlight in the winter. If you are not a regular milk-drinker, it is a good idea to find a vitamin supplement that contains vitamin D.

Choose foods high in calcium

FoodServingMilligrams of calcium per serving
Dairy Products
Milk (whole)1 cup291
Milk (1%)1 cup300
Milk (skim)1 cup302
Fortified soy and rice milks 1 cup300
American cheese1 ounce (about 1 slice)174
Cheddar cheese1 ounce191
Monterey jack cheese1 ounce212
Mozzarella cheese, part skim1 ounce207
Muenster cheese1 ounce303
Ricotta cheese, part-skim1⁄2 cup337
Ricotta cheese, whole1⁄2 cup257
Swiss cheese1 ounce272
Ice cream1⁄2 cup88
Frozen yogurt1⁄2 cup104
Yogurt, low-fat1 cup345–415
Pudding1⁄2 cup150
Protein Foods
Beans (legumes), cooked1 cup90
Soybeans, cooked1⁄2 cup130
Clams4 ounces100
Crab3 ounces132
Canned salmon (with bones)3 ounces167
Canned sardines (with bones) 3 ounces371
Tofu (if calcium sulfate or calcium lactate is listed on the label)1⁄2 cup434
Hummus1⁄2 cup66
Almonds1⁄2 cup188
Broccoli, cooked1⁄2 cup89
Collard greens, cooked1⁄2 cup74
Kale, cooked1⁄2 cup90
Spinach, cooked1⁄2 cup61
Rhubarb1⁄2 cup174
Dried figs1⁄2 cup144
Calcium-fortified orange juice1 cup300
Total1 cup282
Raisin Bran1 cup200
Basic Four1 cup200
Oatmeal1 cup170
Life1 cup154

Prepared by Katherine Cason, former associate professor of food science. Revised by Julie A. Haines, assistant coordinator, Penn State Nutrition Links program.