Calcium

Why We Need Calcium

You may know that calcium plays an important role in building healthy teeth and bones. What you may not know is that calcium is vital to every cell of the body for muscle function, nerve transmission, blood clotting and many other uses. When you don't get enough calcium in your diet, the calcium stored in your bones is "stolen" to supply the rest of your body. Hence, your bones suffer the consequences of a low-calcium diet and they become more susceptible to fractures.

Recommendations

The Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI's) for calcium vary by age and stage of life:

Age/Lifestage Group New Calcium Goal (mg/day)

Birth - 6 months

210

6 months - 1 year

270

1 - 3 years old

500

4 - 8 years old

800

9 - 18 years old

1300

19 - 50 years old

1000

51 + years old

1200

Pregnant and/or lactating (18 years old and younger)

1300

Pregnant and/or lactating (19+ years old)

1000

Food & Nutrition Information Center, USDA National Agricultural Library web site. Accessed online June, 2010

Many good sources of calcium fit quite well into a healthy, low-fat diet. The following table includes some examples of low-fat sources of calcium from several food groups:

Group Examples

Dairy

milk (skim or 1%), low-fat and fat-free yogurts, low-fat and fat-free cheeses

Meats/Beans

sardines/salmon with bones, calcium-set tofu

Fruits/Vegetables

collard greens, kale, cooked spinach, broccoli, calcium-fortified orange juice

Grains

pancakes, calcium-fortified breads and cereals, corn tortilla

Combination Foods

cheese pizza (made with reduced-fat cheese), soups prepared with skim milk

Non-food sources

calcium supplements

Calcium Supplements

It is not difficult to make low-fat food choices that are also good sources of calcium. Although food is the preferred source of calcium, a supplement may be necessary to help you meet your daily calcium needs. Avoid oyster shell, dolomite and bone meal supplements because they can contain significant amounts of lead and are absorbed less efficiently than calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate, the most popular form, is chewable and is marketed by a number of companies. Calcium carbonate is best absorbed when taken with food.

Common brand names of calcium carbonate include Tums™, Rolaids™, Viactiv™, Caltrate™, Oscal™ and Titralac™. Other types of calcium supplements are calcium citrate and calcium gluconate. Calcium citrate is better absorbed in people who have reduced stomach acid. Most supplements provide 500 mg of calcium per serving – take no more than 500 mg of calcium at one time to maximize absorption. To avoid calcium toxicity, do not exceed 1500 mg of calcium per day.

Best Food Sources of Calcium

One way to increase the amount of calcium in your diet is to consume calcium-rich foods like low-fat milk, cheese, broccoli and others. Many foods are fortified with calcium and are readily available and affordable. Foods like orange juice, cereals and breakfast bars have calcium added to them, so it is easier than ever before to get the recommended level of calcium everyday.

Dairy Sources

Food

Serving Size

Calcium (mg)

%DV

Milk, skim

8 oz.

302

30%

Yogurt, low-fat fruit

8 oz.

350

35%

Yogurt, plain

8 oz.

450

45%

Yogurt, frozen

8 oz.

278

28%

Cheese, American

1 oz.

202

20%

Cheese, low-fat cottage

4 oz. (½ cup)

69

7%

Cheese, cream

1 oz.

30

3%

Cheese, cheddar

1 oz.

204

20%

Cheese, mozzarella

1 oz.

203

20%

Cheese, swiss

1 oz.

273

27%

Cheese, parmesan

¼ cup

250

25%

Cheese, colby/monterey jack

1 oz.

200

20%

Ice cream, low-fat

4 oz. (½ cup)

100

10%

Pudding

4 oz. (½ cup)

150

15%


Another easy and economical way to boost the calcium content of many meals is to add non-fat powdered dry milk to pudding, homemade cookies, bread or muffins, soups, gravy, casseroles and even a glass of milk. A single Tbsp. of non-fat powdered dry milk adds 52 mg of calcium, and 2-4 Tbsp. can be added to most recipes.

You may add:

Non-Dairy Sources & Others

Food Serving Size Calcium (mg) %DV

Broccoli, cooked

4 oz. (½ cup)

47

5%

Spinach, cooked*

4 oz. (½ cup)

122

12%

Greens, cooked

4 oz. (½ cup)

55

6%

Tofu, raw, firm - calcium - set

4 oz. (½ cup)

258

26%

Instant Oatmeal

1 package

150

15%

Pancakes, buttermilk

1

80

8%

Sardines

2

90

9%

Salmon, canned, with bones

3 oz.

203

20%

Taco with cheese

1 large

340

34%

Quiche with cheese

1/8 of 8-inch pie

115

12%

Macaroni and cheese, box

1 cup

100

10%

Pizza with cheese

1/8 of 12-inch pizza

115

12%

Breads and Cereals

1 slice or ½ cup

30

3%

Tortilla, corn

1 medium

45

5%

Tomato soup, prepared with milk

8 oz.

186

19%

DV = Daily Value. Daily value is used to compare nutrient levels in different foods. The value doesn’t reflect individual need. The DV for calcium is 1,000 mg for adults and children aged 4 and older. Foods providing 20% of more of the DV are considered to be high sources of a nutrient, but foods providing lower percentages of the DV also contribute to a healthful diet.

* contains substances that tend to block calcium absorption

Fortified foods

Fortified foods are a great way to get dietary calcium. When looking for a calcium-fortified version of a product, look for words on the packaging like “calcium-fortified”,“excellent source of calcium” (more than 200 mg of calcium) or “good source of calcium” (110-190 mg/serving).

Some examples of calcium fortified foods include: Total Cereal™, select varieties of Crystal Light™ drink, Honey Maid ™ Graham Crackers, Cheez-It™ Juniors, Kellogg’s Fruit Loops™, Special K Plus™, Eggo Waffles™, Country Crock Spread™-tub only, select varieties of soy milks, select varieties of orange juice (Minute Maid™ & Tropicana™), select varieties of cranberry juices (OceanSpray™), some grapefruit juices (Ruby Red Grapefruit Juice™), and some apple juices, Wonder Bread™, and Hostess Mini-muffins™. Check packages for exact calcium content.

Suggestions

References

Tussing, L. & K. Chapman-Novakofski.  “Osteoporosis prevention education: Behavior theories and calcium intake.” J Amer Dietetic Assoc 105.1(2005): 92-97.
"Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Calcium" Office of Dietary Supplements. National Institutes of Health. 7 Oct 2009. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/calcium.asp