You need it for healthy bones, but what’s the best way to get it? Learn what foods are good sources and if you may need a supplement…
Here are some facts and myths about calcium.
You can get calcium from vegetables. True
If your mother told you to drink your milk to become strong, she was right. Dairy is high in calcium. But greens like Chinese cabbage, kale, collards, and broccoli have calcium, too. So do soft-boned canned fish – pink salmon and sardines. If you don’t get enough calcium, you boost your chances of osteoporosis, a disease that makes bones weak.
A baby in the womb takes calcium away from its mom. True
While growing inside the womb, a baby needs lots of calcium to grow its bones. It’s especially important during the last 3 months. If you don’t get enough calcium, the baby will get what it needs from your bones. When pregnant or breastfeeding, you need to eat calcium-rich foods. Talk to your doctor about supplements. The good news: Any lost bone usually comes back after giving birth or after breastfeeding.
Cutting down on calcium in your diet prevents kidney stones. False
Most kidney stones are made of a type of calcium called calcium oxalate. The calcium in foods doesn’t cause them. (But too much calcium from supplements may make kidney stones more likely.) Bottom line: Get the recommended amount of calcium — not too much, and not too little.
Which gives you the most calcium: Low fat milk or yoghurt?
Yogurt has a slight edge over milk. An 8-ounce cup of yogurt will give you about a third of your daily calcium needs. Orange juice and almond, rice, and soy milks that are fortified with calcium are also good sources. If you drink anything that has calcium added, remember to shake the container first; the calcium can settle to the bottom.
Who needs the most calcium: Adults older than 50 or children and teens aged 10 to 20?
Children and teens ages 10 to 20 are growing quickly, and so are their bones. So they need a lot of calcium — at least 1,300 milligrams a day. They could get that amount from 2 cups of milk, 1 cup of calcium-fortified orange juice, and 1 cup of yogurt daily. Adults typically need a little less — at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day.
You lose calcium every day. True
Calcium is one of the most important minerals in your body. Almost all is stored in your bones and teeth. But you lose calcium every day through your skin, sweat, hair, and other bodily functions. Your body can’t make calcium, so you need to get it from food or supplements.
What does calcium do for your body?
Your body needs calcium for building bones and keeping them healthy. But calcium does other things, too. You need it to move your muscles and to help nerves carry messages between your brain and parts of your body. Calcium also helps blood vessels move blood throughout your body and helps release hormones and proteins.
Your body needs Vitamin D to absorb calcium. True
Vitamin D and calcium are partners. Your body can’t absorb calcium without vitamin D, which you can get from the sun and some foods. Fatty fish like wild tuna and salmon are good sources of vitamin D, but many people need to take supplements. Talk to your doctor if you’re wondering if you get enough Vitamin D.
You should always take calcium supplements with food. False
You should take some calcium supplements with food, but not all. The two most common kinds are calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Calcium carbonate costs less and works better when taken with food. Calcium citrate is more expensive but can be taken with or without food.
You absorb more calcium if you take big doses of supplements. False
You won’t do yourself any favors by taking calcium supplements in large doses. Calcium absorbs best when you limit yourself to 500 milligrams at a time.
Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD
Confused About Calcium Supplements?
Experts share their advice about what to consider when choosing a calcium supplement.
Are you getting enough calcium in your diet? Maybe not, especially if you’re a woman or a teenage girl. Although this has improved in recent years, we’re still not getting enough calcium to maintain our bone health. How much is that? It depends on your age. According to the Institute of Medicine, the recommended daily amount of calcium to get is:
- 1-3 years: 700 milligrams daily
- 4-8 years: 1,000 milligrams daily
- 9-18 years: 1,300 milligrams daily
- 19-50 years: 1,000 milligrams daily
- 51-70 years: 1,200 milligrams daily for women; 1,000 milligrams daily for men
- 71 and older: 1,200 milligrams daily
The Institute of Medicine says that most in the U.S. get enough calcium, except for girls 9 to 18 years old. Although women’s recommended calcium needs to increase with menopause, postmenopausal woman taking supplements may also be at greater risk of getting too much calcium. “We know that peak bone mass occurs around age 30, so it’s very important in childhood and adolescence to have a healthy intake of calcium early on,” says Marcy B. Bolster, MD. She is a professor of medicine in the division of rheumatology and immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina and director of the MUSC Center for Osteoporosis and Bone Health. “After age 30, we start to gradually lose bone, and that loss accelerates for women at the time of menopause. So it’s very important to stave off bone loss with adequate calcium intake.”
Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD