Why is calcium so important to my health?
Calcium is a mineral found in your body. Most of the calcium is found in your bones and your teeth. You need plenty of calcium to keep them healthy and strong throughout your life. There is also calcium in your blood, in your muscles and in the fluid between your cells. Your body uses calcium to help blood vessels and muscles expand and contract, and to regulate the pH level of your blood. It also helps produce hormones and enzymes as well as move impulses through your nervous system.
How much calcium do I need?
Your body can’t make calcium, so it’s important to make sure that you provide it with all the calcium it needs. If you are younger than 50 years of age, you need about 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium per day. If you are older than 50, you need 1,200 mg of calcium per day. It is best to get your calcium throughout the day rather than all at once. You can do this by eating a calcium-rich food with every meal or taking a supplement twice a day rather than all at once. You should also be sure to get enough vitamin D each day to help your body absorb the calcium.
What happens if I don’t get enough calcium?
If your body doesn’t have enough calcium and vitamin D to support important body functions, it takes calcium from your bones. Over time, this calcium loss can put you at risk for osteoporosis. Osteoporosis occurs when the inside of the bones become porous from a loss of calcium. This is called losing bone mass.
The following people are at higher risk for low calcium levels:
- Postmenopausal women
- Women who have eating disorders, such as anorexia or the female athlete triad disorder
- People who do not eat animal, fish or dairy products (vegans)
- Women with premenstrual syndrome
- People who take medicine for osteoporosis
- People who have parathyroid disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, liver or kidney disease
What foods are good sources of calcium?
It’s best to try to get your calcium from food. Nonfat and low-fat dairy products, such as yogurt, cheese and milk, are good sources of calcium. Other sources of calcium include dried beans, tofu, pink salmon, spinach and broccoli. Some foods, such as orange juice, breads, dry breakfast cereals and dairy substitutes, may be fortified with calcium.
The following are examples of foods that are good sources of calcium:
- Nonfat or low-fat yogurt (8 ounces = 345-452 mg)
- Nonfat or low-fat cheese (2 ounces = 400 mg)
- Fortified oatmeal (1 packet = 350 mg)
- Low-fat milk (1 cup = 290 mg) or skim milk (1 cup = 306 mg)
- Enriched soy, almond or rice milk (1 cup = 200-300 mg)
- Fish and seafood such as sardines (3 ounces = 325 mg), pink salmon (3 ounces = 181 mg) and ocean perch (3 ounces = 116 mg)
- Beans such as soybeans (1/2 cup = 130 mg) and white beans (1/2 cup = 96 mg)
- Almonds (1/4 cup = 94 mg), figs (5 figs = 137 mg) and whole ground sesame seeds (3 tablespoons = 300 mg)
- Spinach (1 cup cooked = 245 mg) and collard greens (1 cup cooked = 266 mg)
What about supplements?
Your doctor may suggest taking a calcium supplement. Most women who have gone through menopause should take calcium and vitamin D supplements. Your doctor may also suggest taking a magnesium supplement with a calcium supplement, because these minerals work together in the body. For most people, a 2-to-1 ratio of calcium to magnesium is appropriate. So, if you take 1,000 mg of calcium each day, you should also take 500 mg of magnesium.
There are two main types of calcium supplements: calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Both types of supplement will give your body enough calcium. An over-the-counter (OTC) antacid that contains calcium carbonate is inexpensive and easy to take, and it can give you the calcium you need.
To avoid possible side effects, take calcium carbonate with meals. If you choose calcium citrate, you can take it on an empty stomach. If you take thyroid medicine or iron supplements, be sure to take these medicines separate from your calcium supplement. Talk to your family doctor if you have any questions about calcium or magnesium supplements.
This content was developed with general underwriting support from Nature Made®.
See a list of resources used in the development of this information.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff