Calcium FAQs

What is Calcium?

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in your body. It is very important for:

  • bone health
  • teeth
  • nerve function
  • muscles
  • blood clotting.

If you do not get enough calcium in your diet you may be at risk for losing calcium from your bones, making them thinner and weaker. This condition is called osteoporosis.

How much Calcium and Vitamin D do I need?

How much calcium and/or Vitamin D you need depends on your age. The recommendations are:

    CALCIUM per day                VITAMIN D per day


Children age       9 to 18            1300 mg                                   600 IU

Adults age        19 to 50            1000 mg                                   600 IU              **During Pregnancy – 1200-1500 mg

Adults age        51 to 70            1200 mg                                   600 IU

Adults age        over 70             1200 mg                                   800 IU


*mg = milligrams                      *IU = international units

What are good sources of Calcium?

Dairy products are one of the best sources of calcium. Calcium is in a variety of other foods, but if dairy products are not a part of your daily diet, it may be hard to get enough calcium from the foods you eat. The following table shows approximate amounts of calcium in various food sources for this nutrient.

Dairy Food Calcium Sources

FOOD                                                     SERVING SIZE               MG CALCIUM


Plain yogurt, low fat/fat free                            1 cup                            415 to 450

Fruit yogurt, low fat/fat free                             1 cup                            350

Milk (fat-free, low-fat, whole)                          1 cup                            300

Frozen yogurt (fat-free, low-fat, whole)         1 cup                            210                   **During Pregnancy – soft cheeses

Reduced-fat cheddar cheese                             1 oz                              120                              are not recommended.

American cheese                                                 2 oz                              323

Swiss cheese                                                      1.5 oz                              336

Cheddar cheese                                                1.5 oz                               307

Mozzarella, part-skim                                     1.5 oz                              311

Ricotta cheese, part skim                               1/2 cup                           355

Cottage cheese, reduced fat                           1/2 cup                              75

Calcium-fortified cottage cheese                  1/2 cup                           300

Cheese pizza                                                          1 slice                         220

Nondairy Food Calcium Sources

FOOD                                                     SERVING SIZE               MG CALCIUM


Calcium-fortified orange juice                            1 cup                            300

Corn tortillas (lime treated)                                3                                    130

Waffle, 7-inch round                                            1                                     180

Pancakes, 4-inch round                                       2                                    115

Beans, dried (cooked)                                           1 cup                             90

Soybeans (cooked)                                            1/2 cup                             90

Tofu (processed with calcium sulfate)          1/2 cup                           253

Soy drink (calcium-fortified)                              1 cup                           370

Salmon with small bones                                    3 oz                              180

Broccoli (raw)                                                        1 cup                             90

Almonds                                                                 4 oz                               80

Calcium-fortified cereal                                      1 oz                              235 to 1043

Chinese cabbage, raw                                          1 cup                             74

Turnip greens boiled                                       1/2 cup                            99

Kale, cooked                                                          1 cup                            94

Calcium content and availability will vary depending on the type of food, fat content processing, and brand. The calcium in some of the nondairy choices, such as vegetables, beans, and soy, is not absorbed as well as the calcium in dairy products. Although foods fortified with calcium make it easier to meet daily calcium needs, it still can be hard for your body to absorb enough calcium if dairy foods are not a part of your diet. If possible, get your calcium from a variety of sources.

Do I need a Calcium supplement?

If you can get enough calcium in your diet, you do not need to take calcium supplements. If you cannot have milk products in your diet, or they must be limited, ask your health care provider or dietitian if you should take a calcium supplement.

You are more likely to need a supplement if you:

  • Have digestive problems or other types of reactions if you drink or eat dairy products (such as lactose intolerance or milk allergy).
  • Have osteoporosis or osteopenia (decreased bone density).
  • Are a vegan vegetarian (don’t eat any animal products).
  • Do not eat a healthy diet.
  • Are a postmenopausal woman.

Which Calcium supplement should I take? 

There are many calcium preparations and strengths. Choosing one can be confusing. The most common products are calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Look for familiar brand-name products that have the USP (United States Pharmacopeia) symbol on the label. These products have been tested for adequate absorption by the body.

Calcium carbonate is best absorbed with a meal. Calcium citrate can be taken on a full or empty stomach. Calcium citrate may be a better choice for older adults or younger people who have low levels of stomach acid.

Look at how much elemental calcium is in the supplement. The less elemental calcium per pill, the more pills you will have to take to meet your needs. If you want to take just 2 calcium pills a day, you need to choose a product that contains 500 to 600 mg of elemental calcium. Calcium, whether in food or supplements, is best absorbed if taken several times a day, in amounts of 500 mg or less.

Calcium phosphate, lactate, and gluconate are also well absorbed. However, the calcium content of these supplements is low per pill, so you need several pills a day to meet your needs.

What happens if I don’t get enough Calcium? 

If you do not get enough calcium, you may have muscle cramps in your hands and feet. You may also develop osteoporosis, which may result in:

  • a gradual loss of height
  • humping of the back
  • bones that break easily
  • serious fractures if you fall.

Does anything affect the body’s ability to absorb Calcium?

Vitamin D increases calcium absorption. The following things can make it harder for your body to absorb calcium:

  • caffeine
  • too much dietary fiber
  • phosphates (in soft drinks)
  • some medicines, such as tetracycline (an antibiotic) and antacids that contain aluminum.

How can I take care of myself? 

Eat more calcium-rich food: dairy products, green leafy vegetables, citrus fruit, and sardines. Add cheese to salads and entrees and milk to casseroles and soups. If you are trying to cut back on fat, use only nonfat milk and fat-free and reduced-fat cheese.

  • Some people cannot digest most dairy products because their bodies lack the enzyme lactase needed to break down milk sugar (lactose). This problem is called lactose intolerance. If you are lactose intolerant, you can buy nonprescription products, such as Lactaid or Dairy Ease. These products come in pill form and contain lactase to help you digest dairy products.
  • Get plenty of exercise. Walk a mile a day if you can. Your body needs exercise to help it use the calcium in your diet to strengthen your bones.
  • Take calcium supplements if you are advised to do so.


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