Look for calcium in a variety of foods. Photo credit: Johnathan Steffaens, Flickr Creative Commons
Why Is Calcium Important?
Calcium is a mineral needed for strong bones and teeth. Our bodies build bones until around age 30. After this age, bones continue to store calcium but do not grow. To keep bones strong, we need to eat and drink calcium-rich foods daily to replace calcium used in our bodies. Calcium is also needed for other important body functions. It helps blood to clot and is needed to release insulin that maintains blood sugar levels.
Calcium also is necessary for vitamin B12 to be absorbed. Osteoporosis occurs when the calcium in bones is not replaced, making bones brittle. Vitamin D is also needed for calcium to be absorbed. If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia (stage before osteoporosis), you should get 1,500 milligrams (mg) of calcium each day. This may be difficult to do without taking calcium supplements.
Recommendations for Calcium and Vitamin D
Vitamin D RDAs:
- Ages 1-70 years, 600 IU (15 micrograms)
- 71+ years old, 800 IU (20 micrograms)
- Pregnancy and lactation, 600 IU
- Upper limit, ages 9+, 4,000 IU
- Ages 1-3 years, 700 mg
- 4-8 years old, 1,000 mg
- 9-18 years old, 1,300 mg
- 19-50 years old, 1,000 mg
- 51-70 years old males, 1,000 mg
- 51-70 years old females, 1,200 mg
- 71+ years old, 1,200 mg
- Pregnancy and lactation/14-18 years old, 1,300 mg
- Pregnancy and lactation/19-50 years old, 1,000 mg
- Upper limit: 19-50 years old, 2,500 mg
- Upper limit:51+ years old, 2,000 mg
Tip: Eat or drink three to four good calcium sources each day. Calcium keeps bones strong and is linked to weight maintenance, lower blood pressure, and lower risk of some cancers.
Tips Affecting Different Age Groups
Calcium-rich eating is important for all age groups. Young people between ages 9 and 18 need the most calcium to build strong bones while they are growing. Adults from 18 to 50 years old need to maintain their bone strength by getting enough calcium each day. Adults over 50 lose calcium at a faster rate. Milk is a good choice when recovering from exercise because of its vitamins, minerals, natural sugars, and fluid content.
- Buy beverages that contain calcium and vitamin D for mealtime drinks.
- Look for broccoli, fish with bones, and nuts to add a calcium boost.
|Low-fat yogurt with fruit||1 cup||380|
|Orange juice, calcium fortified||1 cup||300|
|Skim milk||1 cup||300|
|Soy milk, calcium fortified||1 cup||300|
|Whole milk||1 cup||300|
|Cheese, mozzarella||1 oz||207|
|Cheese, American||1 oz||174|
|Kale, cooked||1 cup||94|
|Ice cream||1/2 cup||92|
|Broccoli, fresh||1/2 cup||88|
Many foods contain calcium, but dairy foods top the list. They also contain vitamin D and other nutrients that are necessary for calcium to be absorbed. Choose low-fat dairy products to reduce the fat and calories. Put some of these foods in your meals each day.
Some foods have been fortified with calcium and are good choices for those who cannot eat or drink dairy products. These include soy and rice milk, orange juice, cereals, and even some bread products. You can also add dry milk powder to many foods to boost the calcium content.
Serving size: About 1 cup; makes 6 servings
- 2 cups low-fat milk (can substitute soy, almond, or other nondairy "milk" fortified with calcium and vitamin D)
- 2 cups fresh baby kale or spinach
- 1 cup blueberries (other fruits can be substituted; using some frozen fruit creates a thicker and creamier smoothie)
- 1 cup banana or avocado
- 2 Tbsp peanut butter or other nut butter (optional)
Blend together first two ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add the rest, blend until smooth. Enjoy.
Analysis used: 1% milk, baby spinach, banana, and no optional ingredients
Prepared by Frances Alloway, extension educator.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, "What Is Calcium?" January 28, 2014.
National Institutes of Health MedlinePlus, "New Recommended Daily Amounts of Calcium and Vitamin D," December 2011.