Vitamins and Minerals: Food Sources for Calcium

The Recommended Dietary Allowances for calcium vary according to age. Most people consume only about half of what they need.  

Age of 19-50 years: 1000 mg per day
Over 50 years: 1200 mg per day

The calcium in dairy products is absorbed most efficiently, but if you cannot tolerate dairy products there are now foods fortified with calcium such as orange juice and soy "milk". Some vegetables, beans and nuts are also good sources of calcium but you need to eat lots of them in order to get the 300 mg calcium that is in 1 cup milk (see below). In order for the body to absorb the calcium in food it needs a hormone produced by Vitamin D. Dairy foods naturally contain Vitamin D. If you depend on non-dairy foods for calcium, be sure you are taking a one-a-day type multiple vitamin plus minerals in order to get adequate vitamin D. Your skin also makes Vitamin D when it is exposed to the sun. We need about 15 minutes several times per week in order to get enough Vitamin D. During winter months in Michigan we cannot rely on sun for Vitamin D so it is important to take a multiple vitamin daily. Some cereals are fortified with calcium in large amounts. If you eat these regularly, be sure not to overdo calcium supplementation.

Good Food Sources Of Calcium

Food item

Calcium in mg.

Total cereals, one serving

1000

8 ounces plain yogurt

400-450

1 ounce Parmesan cheese

390

3 ounces sardines with bones

325

8 ounces fruit-flavored yogurt

315

1 cup skim milk

302

1 cup orange juice with calcium

300

1 cup fortified soymilk

200-300

1 cup low-fat chocolate milk

288

1 ounce Swiss cheese

272

1 ounce part-skim mozzarella

207

3 ounces salmon with bone and liquid

181

1/2 cup collard greens

113-178

2 tbsp sesame seeds

176

2 pancakes, made with milk

164

1/2 cup cup pudding made with skim milk

150-160

1 cup tomato soup made with milk

159

1 ounce blue cheese

150

1 ounce feta cheese

140

1/2 cup green soybeans

130

1 ounce low-fat cheese

118

1 slice cheese pizza

117

1/2 cup vanilla ice cream

113

1 packet instant oatmeal

105

1/2 cup black-eyed peas

105

1/2 cup soft serve yogurt

103

1 cup Cheerios ® or Chex ® cereals

100

1/2 cup All-Bran ®

99

1/2 cup turnip greens

99

1/2 cup soybeans

88

3 figs

81

1/2 cup bok choy (Chinese cabbage)

79

1/2 cup cottage cheese

78

1 cup bean soup

78

1/2 cup baked beans

77

1 ounce almonds (24)

70

 

 

SOURCE: USDA Nutrient database for standard reference. Nutrient Data Laboratory

Ways to Add Calcium to Your Diet

Ten Tips For Adding Calcium To Your Diet

  1. Have a low-fat yogurt for a snack.
  2. Add grated low-fat or soy cheese to roll-up sandwiches or salads.
  3. Use marinated tofu in stir-frys.
  4. Sprinkle some almonds on your cereal or salad.
  5. Have main dishes based on beans rather than animal protein.
  6. Try cooked turnip or collard greens as a "new" vegetable.
  7. Have low-fat pudding for desert.
  8. Use calcium-fortified orange juice for breakfast.
  9. Order low-fat milk at restaurants instead of pop.
  10. Vanilla soymilk is delicious on oatmeal.

Calcium Supplements

What type should I take?

Nutritionists prefer that we get our calcium from food, but if you are not eating enough calcium rich foods you need to take a supplement. Calcium in supplements comes in various forms. Calcium carbonate has the highest concentration of calcium by weight (40 percent) so you won't need to take as many pills as you would if you use calcium citrate, which is 21 percent calcium or calcium lactate, which is 14 percent calcium. Calcium carbonate is the type of calcium found in popular antacids such as TUMS or ROLAIDS. It is generally less expensive than calcium citrate. Some people however tolerate calcium citrate better. You want to avoid calcium supplements containing bonemeal, as those can contain lead, a very toxic substance. Look for a USP designation on your calcium supplement. This indicates the supplement will dissolve and be absorbed adequately.

I can't find plain calcium, all the supplements have other things added

Most calcium supplements usually have added vitamin D, which is good, because that helps your body absorb calcium. Although magnesium or other minerals are often added to calcium supplements these are NOT recommended because mineral supplements containing magnesium, iron and zinc actually interfere with calcium absorption. Antacids such as TUMS ® or ROLAIDS ® are an inexpensive source of calcium carbonate with nothing else added. Make sure if you use these that you take an all-purpose multiple vitamin/mineral supplement in order to get the vitamin D. However, DO NOT TAKE your multiple vitamin/mineral supplement at the same time as you take your calcium supplement because the minerals in the vitamin will compete with calcium for absorption.

How much should I take?

Experts recommend that calcium supplements contain no more than 500 - 600 mg of calcium per serving. That is the most that the body can absorb at one time. The upper limit for calcium from food PLUS supplementation is 2500 mg per day. Calcium toxicity can occur in people taking mega doses of calcium supplements, causing headache, irritability and kidney problems. It is a good idea to have a dietitian evaluate your diet for calcium and then advise you on how much calcium to take from supplements. More is not better when it comes to calcium supplements.

When should I take my calcium?

In general it is best to take calcium supplements between meals or at bedtime because several dietary factors can decrease calcium absorption from supplements. If you are over the age of 70 and using a calcium carbonate supplement, then you might want to take it after you eat. Calcium needs an acidic environment in order to be absorbed, and as we get older the acidity in our intestines decreases. Calcium citrate supplements already are acidic so it is not necessary to take them with meals. Some people get indigestion and gas from calcium supplements, especially calcium carbonate. Taking it at bedtime helps people tolerate the supplement better.


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