Dietary Calcium

Why is calcium so important?

Did you know that 99% of your body’s calcium is stored in your bones and teeth? This calcium makes up your bone bank. Calcium is deposited and withdrawn from your bone bank daily, based on your body’s need for calcium. If your daily diet is low in calcium, calcium is withdrawn from your bone bank.

Bone is broken down to keep your blood calcium level normal. This happens because calcium plays a critical role in supporting your body’s vital functions; such as controlling your blood pressure and maintaining your heart beat. Consuming the recommended amount of calcium each day is crucial to reach peak bone mass in youth and to preserve bone mass throughout adulthood.

How much calcium is recommended each day?

It is recommended that everyone, including pregnant or breastfeeding women, consume the daily calcium intake listed below in milligrams (mg) per day according to age and gender. It is best to get the amount of calcium recommended for you each day from the foods that you eat.

Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Calcium:

  Age (years) Calcium(mg)*
Children1-3           700
         4-8           1000
         9-18           1300
     Men         19-70           1000
 71 and older           1200
   Women        19-50           1000
51 and older           1200

Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (IOM),2010*

What is the best way to get the calcium I need?

  • Your body uses calcium best when it is spaced out over the day.  Most experts recommend consuming 500-600 mg of calcium or less at one time. It is wise to include a food containing calcium at each meal or snack.
  • Food sources of calcium are the preferred way to get the calcium you need. Calcium-rich foods provide a variety of important nutrients that may not be present in supplements.
  • There are many easy ways to get the recommended amount of calcium from foods. Calcium-rich foods include dairy foods, calcium-rich non-dairy foods, and calcium-fortified foods.

Is more calcium than the recommended intake better?

More calcium is not better for most healthy individuals; it does not benefit one’s bones. Only in rare cases, when medical conditions or medications interfere with the body’s ability to use calcium may health care providers suggest slightly more calcium than is generally recommended.

It is important to know that consuming too much calcium on a regular basis may be harmful. The adverse effects of excessive calcium intakes especially from supplements are being studied and may include high blood calcium levels, kidney complications such as kidney stone formation, and possibly heart problems. It is important to speak to your healthcare provider about your individual needs for calcium.

If you are not able to consume the recommended amount of calcium from the foods you eat, speak to your healthcare provider to find out if taking a calcium supplement is recommended for you. If your healthcare provider recommends a calcium supplement, it is important that the amount of calcium you get from the food you eat plus any other calcium source (multivitamins, antacids, and/or calcium supplements) add up to meet but not exceed your recommended calcium intake in milligrams (mg) per day. Too much calcium, particularly from supplements, may be harmful.

How can I get the recommended amount of calcium if I have lactose intolerance?

You can get the recommended calcium in your diet, even if you are lactose intolerant, allergic to milk, or follow a strict vegetarian diet. If you have lactose intolerance, you can get calcium in your diet either by taking lactase enzyme replacement along with your first bite of a dairy food or by choosing dairy foods with lactase enzyme added. Many people with lactose intolerance are able to tolerate small servings of lactose when eaten along with other foods as part of a meal.  There are many non-dairy foods rich in calcium such as canned salmon and sardines (eaten with the bones), certain green leafy vegetables, almonds, soy nuts, figs, and many calcium fortified foods and beverages. It is important to discuss your personal nutrition needs with your healthcare provider before changing your diet.

How can I get the calcium I need if I am allergic to milk or if I am a strict vegetarian?

If you are allergic to milk or following a strict vegetarian diet, you can get the right amount of calcium each day by choosing non-dairy beverages with calcium added (such as fortified rice beverages, fortified soy beverages, or fortified juice) and/or calcium rich non-dairy foods. It is important to shake fortified beverages well before pouring them into your glass to make sure that the calcium does not settle at the bottom of the container. Non-dairy foods rich in calcium are also options.

Can I get the recommended amount of calcium from my diet and follow a heart healthy diet, too?

Your diet can be bone healthy and heart healthy too if you choose calcium rich foods that are fat-free or low fat. For strong bones and overall good health, it is also recommended to eat more fruits and vegetables each day.

Is it true that dietary calcium may have other benefits?

Research studies are exploring the potential role that a diet with the recommended amount of calcium may have in protecting individuals against high blood pressure, premenstrual syndrome in women, kidney stones, colon cancer, and other conditions. In summary, getting the right amount of calcium each day is necessary for strong bones and may provide other health benefits, too!