Do you get enough calcium?

One in 4 women and 1 in 8 men over the age of 50 have osteoporosis. Osteoporosis refers to bone loss that causes "thinning" or weakening of the bones. Because bone loss occurs without symptoms, osteoporosis often goes unrecognized for many years until one or several fractures occur. Since bones are made primarily of calcium, eating calcium-rich foods helps keep bones strong. At the same time, it helps the heart, blood, and muscles work properly.

Other factors also affect bone strength, such as genetics, amount of weight-bearing exercise, and exposure to sunlight. Sunlight is necessary because it affects the level of vitamin D in the body, which helps the absorption of calcium.

Since the body can't make calcium, we have to get it from the food we eat.

Getting the most calcium from your food

The amount of calcium you absorb from the foods you eat depends not only on how much calcium is in the food, but on how easily it's absorbed (bioavailability), the amount of calcium already stored in your body, and what you eat with the calcium-rich food.

Many researchers say that the best bet for getting calcium is to eat dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese because they are high in calcium, and the type of calcium they contain is easily absorbed by the body.

Foods which contain oxalates or phytates, however, interfere with the body's ability to absorb calcium.

High-oxylate foods

  • Fruits:
    • blackberries
    • blueberries
    • citrus peel
    • Concord grapes
    • Damson plums
    • gooseberries
    • raspberries
    • red currants
    • rhubarb
    • strawberries
  • Vegetables:
    • amaranth
    • beet leaves
    • cassava
    • collards
    • leeks
    • okra
    • parsley
    • purslane
    • spinach
    • sweet potatoes
    • Swiss chard
  • Beverages:
    • beer
    • berry juices
    • coffee
    • cola
    • Ovaltine®
    • tea
  • Other foods:
    • almonds
    • chocolate
    • cocoa
    • peanuts
    • peanut butter
    • pecans
    • poppy seeds

High-phytate foods

  • barley
  • beans
  • bran and wheat cereals
  • corn chips
  • nuts
  • oats
  • rice
  • rye bread
  • sesame seeds
  • soybean meal
  • wheat bran
  • wheat germ

For example, ½ cup of cooked spinach has 122 mg of calcium, but the bioavailability of that calcium is close to zero because spinach is high in oxalates. If you rely on vegetables as your source of calcium, you should choose low-oxalate vegetables more often, such as kale, broccoli, bok choy, mustard and turnip greens.

How much calcium do you need?

Unfortunately, North American men and women aren't getting enough calcium.

In order to keep your bones healthy, get enough calcium every day, and choose low-oxalate, low-phytate fruits and vegetables.

Recommended calcium

Age (years) Intake per day
1 to 3 500 mg
4 to 8 800 mg
9 to 18 1,300 mg
19 to 50 1,000 mg
over 51 1,200 mg

During pregnancy and lactation, recommend calcium changes:

Age (years) Intake per day
under 19 1,300 mg
over 19 1,000 mg

The US National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine can provide more info on recommended intakes.

Calcium-rich foods

The following chart lists the amount of calcium found in many common foods.

Foods containing 50 mg of calcium
bread 2 slices
broccoli, cooked ¾ cup
kidney beans, lima beans, lentils 1 cup
orange (fruit not juice) 1 medium size
tahini 2 tbsp
Foods containing 75 mg of calcium
bok choy or kale, cooked ½ cup
chickpeas 1 cup
cottage cheese (regular or low fat) 1 cup
ice cream ½ cup
parmesan cheese 1 tbsp
almonds ¼ cup
Foods containing 150 mg of calcium
baked beans, soybeans, white beans 1 cup
ice milk, frozen yogurt (regular or low fat) ½ cup
pancakes or waffles, made with milk 3 medium size
pudding, made with milk ½ cup
soft and semi-soft cheese such as feta, mozzarella, camembert (regular or low fat) 1 ¼ inch cube
soup, made with milk 1 cup
tofu, made with calcium 3 oz
Foods containing 250 mg of calcium
firm cheese such as cheddar, swiss, or gouda (regular or low fat) 1 ¼ inch cube
processed cheese slices (regular or low fat) 2 slices
salmon, canned with bones ½ can
sardines, canned with bones ½ can
yogurt, fruit flavored (regular or low fat)* ¾ cup
Foods containing 300 mg of calcium
milk - skim, 1%, 2%, whole, buttermilk, chocolate* 1 cup
calcium - fortified beverages (e.g.: soy, rice) 1 cup
skim milk powder 1/3 cup
yogurt, plain (regular or low fat)* ¾ cup

*add 100 mg for each portion of calcium-enriched milk or yogurt

The contents of this health site are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition.

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