Q: How much calcium should I be getting and what are the best sources?
A: Adults (19-50 years old) should consume a minimum of 1,000mg calcium daily and adults 51+ years are recommended to get at least 1,200mg. Intakes for children and adolescents should be a little higher, since they are still accumulating bone mass. Aim to meet food pyramid recommendations and you’ll be well on your way to reaching calcium guidelines.
Most of us know that calcium is an integral part of bone structure, but this mineral does much more than that! Calcium plays an important role in maintaining normal blood pressure, blood clotting, muscle contraction and the transmission of nerve signals. The body tightly regulates blood calcium levels, and when intake is inadequate, the body draws on calcium stores in bones and teeth.
It’s important for kids and teens to get enough calcium, so that they are able to achieve their height potential and an optimal bone mass, which is reached by age 30. After age 40 or so, bone density inevitably begins to decline and a person with insufficient calcium stores is at risk for osteoporosis. Fortunately, bone loss can be slowed by a diet adequate in calcium and with regular physical activity!
It’s always best to obtain vitamins and minerals from food sources, rather than by taking a supplement. In fact, calcium supplements may be less effective at building strong bones, which may be due to the fact that other micronutrients found in a well-balanced diet – including vitamin D, vitamin K, magnesium and phosphorus – all play necessary roles in bone metabolism.
Some of the best sources of calcium come from the dairy group, but there are great vegetarian sources as well! Besides milk, yogurt and cheese, broccoli, collard greens, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, bok choy and kale are also excellent sources of calcium. Note that spinach, rhubarb and Swiss chard appear equal to milk in calcium content, but they actually provide little calcium to the body, because these foods also contain compounds that prevent absorption of the mineral.
1 cup milk = 300mg calcium
1.5 oz cheddar, mozzarella, muenster cheese = 250mg calcium
1 oz (~1 slice) American cheese = 160mg calcium
1 cup plain, nonfat yogurt = 300-400mg calcium
3 oz sardines (with bones) = 324mg calcium
1 cup enriched soymilk = 350mg calcium
1 cup soymilk, unfortified = 60mg calcium
1 cup calcium-fortified orange juice = 300mg calcium
1 egg = 25mg calcium
½ cup tofu = 275mg calcium
½ cup black-eyed peas (cooked) = 105mg calcium
1.5 cup broccoli (cooked) = 90mg calcium
100% whole grain waffle = 100-200mg calcium
So, what if you don’t drink milk? If you’re lactose intolerant, lower-lactose or lactose-free products are available, as well as enzymes that can be taken orally or added to the milk. Calcium-fortified juice and soy beverages provide calcium as well, but they may not provide other important nutrients found in dairy products.