Calcium is a mineral that is necessary for life. In addition to building bones and keeping them healthy, calcium helps our blood clot, nerves send messages and muscles contract. About 99 percent of the calcium in our bodies is in our bones and teeth. Each day, we lose calcium through our skin, nails, hair, sweat, urine and feces, but our bodies cannot produce new calcium.
That’s why it’s important to try to get calcium from the food we eat. When we don’t get enough calcium for our body’s needs, it is taken from our bones.
|Age 50 & younger||1,000 mg* daily|
|Age 51 & older||1,200 mg* daily|
Sources of Calcium
Calcium-Rich Food Sources
Food is the best source of calcium. Dairy products, such as low-fat and non-fat milk, yogurt and cheese are high in calcium. Certain green vegetables and other foods contain calcium in smaller amounts. Some juices, breakfast foods, soymilk, cereals, snacks, breads and bottled water have calcium that has been added. If you drink soymilk or another liquid that is fortified with calcium, be sure to shake the container well as calcium can settle to the bottom.
A simple way to add calcium to many foods is to add a single tablespoon of nonfat powdered milk, which contains about 50 mg of calcium. About two-to-four tablespoons can be added to most recipes.
Reading Food Labels – How Much Calcium am I Getting?
To determine how much calcium is in a particular food, check the nutrition facts panel of the food label for the daily value (DV) of calcium. Food labels list calcium as a percentage of the DV. This amount is based on 1,000 mg of calcium per day. For example:
- 30% DV of calcium equals 300 mg.
- 20% DV of calcium equals 200 mg of calcium.
- 15% DV of calcium equals 150 mg of calcium.
The amount of calcium you need from a supplement depends on the amount of calcium you get from food. Aim to get the recommended daily amount of calcium you need from food first and supplement only if needed to make up for any shortfall. If you get enough calcium from the foods you eat, then you don’t need to take a supplement. In fact, there is no added benefit to taking more calcium than you need in supplements and doing so may even have some risks.
In general, you shouldn’t take supplements that you don’t need. Calcium supplements are available without a prescription in a wide range of preparations (including chewable and liquid) and in different amounts. The best supplement is the one that meets your needs based on convenience, cost and availability. When choosing the best supplement to meet your needs, keep the following in mind:
- Choose brand-name supplements with proven reliability.Look for labels that state “purified” or have the USP (United States Pharmacopeia) symbol. The “USP Verified Mark” on the supplement label means that the USP has tested and found the calcium supplement to meet certain standards for purity and quality.
- Read the product label carefully to determine the amount of elemental calcium, which is the actual amount of calcium in the supplement, as well as how many doses or pills to take. When reading the label, pay close attention to the “amount per serving” and “serving size.”
- Calcium is absorbed best when taken in amounts of 500 – 600 mg or less.This is the case when you eat calcium rich foods or take supplements. Try to get your calcium-rich foods and/or supplements in smaller amounts throughout the day, preferably with a meal. While it’s not recommended, taking your calcium all at once is better than not taking it at all.
- Take most calcium supplements with food.Eating food produces stomach acid that helps your body absorb most calcium supplements. The one exception to the rule is calcium citrate, which can absorb well when taken with or without food.
- When starting a new calcium supplement, start with a smaller amount to better tolerate it.When switching supplements, try starting with 200-300 mg every day for a week, and drink an extra 6-8 ounces of water with it. Then gradually add more calcium each week.
- Side effects from calcium supplements, such as gas or constipation may occur.If increasing fluids in your diet does not solve the problem, try another type or brand of calcium. It may require trial and error to find the right supplement for you, but fortunately there are many choices.