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Here's Why: | Here's How:

Here's Why:

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 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
0-6 months200
7 months-1 year260
1-3 years700
4-8 years1,000
9-18 years1,300
19-50 years1,000
Men 51-70 years1,000
Men 71 years or older1,200
Women 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
Yogurt, plain low fat1 cup415
Milk, 2%1 cup293
Macaroni and cheese, frozen1 package323
Parmesan cheese, grated1 tablespoon55
Eggnog, nonalcoholic1 cup330
Chocolate milk, low fat1 cup290
Ricotta cheese, part skim½ cup335
Powdered milk1/3 cup283
Cheddar cheese1 ounce204
Swiss cheese1 ounce224
Provolone cheese1 ounce215
Cheese pizza1 serving113
Mozzarella cheese, part skim1 ounce207
American cheese1 ounce193
Cottage cheese, low fat1 cup206
Frozen yogurt, soft serve½ cup103
Ice 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
Carnation breakfast bars1 packet500
Tofu, regular, processed with calcium½ cup253
Calcium-fortified soy milk1 cup250-300
Salmon, canned with edible bones3 ounces181
Calcium-fortified orange juice¾ cup200
Calcium-fortified dry cereal1 cup100-1,000
Blackstrap molasses1 tablespoon135
Pudding, ready to eat½ cup55
Dried figs1 cup300
Tofu, regular, processed without calcium½ cup130
Sardines with edible bones, in oil3 ounces325
Turnip greens, boiled½ cup100
Milk chocolate bar1.5 ounces85
Okra, boiled1 cup100
Temphe½ cup75
Kale, boiled½ cup61
Mustard greens, boiled1 cup40
Orange1 medium52
Pinto beans, cooked½ cup45
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.

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics


Office of Dietary Supplements



Dietitians of Canada



Calcium. Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University website. Available at: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/minerals/calcium/index.html. Updated October 2007. Accessed June 12. 2013.

Calcium. Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health website. Available at: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional. Updated March 14, 2013. Accessed June 12, 2013.

Calcium and vitamin D for treatment and prevention of osteoporosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what. Updated March 26, 2013. Accessed June 12, 2013.

Calcium content of selected foods per common measure. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 25. Available at: https://www.ars.usda.gov/SP2UserFiles/Place/12354500/Data/SR25/nutrlist/sr25a301.pdf. Accessed June 12, 2013.

Heaney RP. Calcium intake and disease prevention. Arq Bras Endocrinol Metabol. 2006;50:685-693.

Hofmeyr G, Duley L, Atallah A. Dietary calcium supplementation for prevention of pre-eclampsia and related problems: a systematic review and commentary. BJOG. 2007 Jun 12. [Epub ahead of print]

Lactose intolerance in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what. Updated March 4, 2012. Accessed June 12, 2013.

Pittas AG, Lau J, Hu FB, Dawson-Hughes B. The role of vitamin D and calcium in type 2 diabetes. A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2007;92:2017-2029. Epub 2007 Mar 27.

Straub DA. Calcium supplementation in clinical practice: a review of forms, doses, and indications [review]. Nutr Clin Pract. 2007;22:286-296.

Tips for making wise choices in the dairy group. USDA Choose My Plate website. Available at: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/printpages/MyPlateFoodGroups/Dairy/food-groups.dairy-tips.pdf. Accessed June 12, 2013.

7/6/2006 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php: Villar J, Abdel-Aleem H, Merialdi M, et al. World Health Organization randomized trial of calcium supplementation among low calcium intake pregnant women. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2006;194:639-649.

7/6/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php: Kumar A, Devi SG, Batra S, Singh C, Shukla DK. Calcium supplementation for the prevention of pre-eclampsia. Int J Gynaecol Obstet. 2009;104:32-36.

Last reviewed June 2013 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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