• Calcium

    calcium Calcium is the most prevalent mineral in the human body. About 99% of the body's calcium resides in the bones and teeth, and the remaining 1% is dispersed throughout other body fluids and cells.


    Calcium's functions include:
    • Builds bones, both in length and strength
    • Helps bones remain strong by slowing the rate of bone loss with age
    • Helps muscles contract
    • Helps the heart beat
    • Plays a role in normal nerve function, transfers nerve impulses
    • Helps blood clot during bleeding
    • Builds healthy teeth (in kids)

    Recommended Intake

    The Institute of Medicine offers these recommendations:
    Age Group
    (in years)
    Recommended Dietary Allowance or •Adequate Intake (mg/day)
    Females Males
    Birth to 6 months 200 milligrams (mg) 200 mg
    7-12 months 260 mg 260 mg
    1-3 years 700 mg 700 mg
    4-8 years 1,000 mg 1,000 mg
    9-18 years 1,300 mg 1,300 mg
    19-50 years 1,000 mg 1,000 mg
    51-70 years 1,200 mg 1, 000 mg
    71 years and older 1,200 mg 1,200 mg
    Pregnant or lactating teens 1,300 mg n/a
    Pregnant or lactating adults 1,000 mg n/a

    Calcium Deficiency

    In childhood, not getting enough calcium may interfere with growth. A severe deficiency may keep children from reaching their potential adult height. Even a mild deficiency over a lifetime can affect bone density and bone loss, which increases the risk for osteoporosis.
    If you do not consume enough calcium, your body will draw from the storage in your bones in order to supply enough calcium for its other functions: nerve transmission, muscle contraction, heartbeat, and blood clotting.
    Symptoms of a calcium deficiency include:
    • Intermittent muscle contractions
    • Muscle pain
    • Muscle spasms
    • Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
    • Rickets in children
    • Osteoporosis in adults

    Calcium Toxicity

    Very large doses over a prolonged period of time may cause kidney stones and poor kidney function. Your body may not absorb other minerals, such as iron , magnesium , and zinc , properly. These problems could occur from consuming too much through a calcium supplement, not from milk or other calcium-rich foods. The tolerable upper intake level (UL) depends on age.
    Age Group
    (in years)
    Upper Level Intake (mg/day)
    Females Males
    Birth to 6 months 1,000 milligrams (mg) 1,000 mg
    7-12 months 1,500 mg 1,500 mg
    1-8 years 2,500 mg 2,500 mg
    9-18 years 3,000 mg 3,000 mg
    19-50 years 2,500 mg 2,500 mg
    51 years and older 2,000 mg 2,000 mg
    Pregnant or lactating teens 3,000 mg n/a
    Pregnant or lactating adults 2,500 mg n/a

    Major Food Sources

    Dairy foods—milk, yogurt, and some cheeses—are the best dietary sources of calcium. These foods are also rich in vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium.
    Food Serving size Calcium content
    Yogurt 1 cup 300-400
    Milk 1 cup 300-400
    Macaroni and cheese, homemade 1 cup 362
    Parmesan cheese 1 Tbsp 336
    Eggnog, nonalcoholic 1 cup 330
    Chocolate milk 1 cup 300
    Ricotta cheese ½ cup 300
    Powdered milk ¼ cup 290
    Cheddar cheese 1 ounce 250
    Swiss cheese 1 ounce 250
    Provolone cheese 1 ounce 215
    Cheese pizza 1/6 frozen pizza 210
    Mozzarella cheese 1 ounce 175
    American cheese 1 ounce 160
    Cottage cheese 1 cup 120
    Frozen yogurt, soft serve ½ cup 100
    Ice cream ½ cup 80
    Absorption of calcium from some other dietary sources is not as great as that from dairy foods. Specifically, dark green vegetables contain oxalates, and grains contain phytates, which can bind with calcium and decrease their absorption.
    Read food labels to determine the specific calcium levels of these foods.
    Food Serving size Calcium content
    Tofu, regular, processed with calcium ½ cup 435
    Calcium-fortified soy milk 1 cup 250-300
    Salmon, canned with edible bones 3 ounces 212
    Calcium-fortified orange juice ¾ cup 200
    Blackstrap molasses 1 Tbsp 172
    Pudding, from cook & serve mix ½ cup 150
    Dried figs 5 pieces 135
    Tofu, regular (processed without calcium) ½ cup 130
    Anchovies with edible bones 3 ounces 125
    Turnip greens, boiled ½ cup 100
    Milk chocolate bar 1.5 ounce 85
    Okra, boiled ½ cup 77
    Tempeh ½ cup 77
    Kale, boiled ½ cup 70
    Mustard greens, boiled ½ cup 65
    Orange 1 medium 50
    Pinto beans ½ cup 45

    Health Implications

    Bone Health and Osteoporosis Prevention

    Calcium is essential to build and maintain strong bones at all stages of life. Bone growth begins at conception, and bones grow longer and wider until well into the 20s. After this type of growth is complete, bones gain in strength and density as they continue to build up to peak bone mass by about age 35. From this point on, as a natural part of the aging process, bones slowly lose mass. Calcium is essential to slow this natural loss and stave off the onset of osteoporosis—a disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to break.

    Tips for Increasing Your Calcium Intake

    • When making oatmeal or other hot cereal, use milk instead of water.
    • Add powdered milk to hot cereal, casseroles, baked goods, and other hot dishes.
    • Make your own salad dressing by combining low-fat plain yogurt with herbs.
    • Add tofu (processed with calcium) to soups and pasta sauce.
    • If you like fish, eat canned fish with bones on crackers or bread.
    • For dessert, try low-fat frozen yogurt, ice cream, or pudding.
    • In baked goods, replace half of the fat with plain yogurt.

    Taking Supplements

    If you are unable to meet your calcium needs through dietary sources, consider a calcium supplement. Some points to remember when choosing and using a calcium supplement include:
    • Check the label because the amount of calcium differs among products.
    • Avoid supplements with dolomite or bone meal; they may contain lead.
    • Check your vitamin D intake, too. This vitamin is essential for absorption of calcium. Milk is a great source of vitamin D, as is sunlight.
    • If you take both calcium and iron supplements or a multivitamin with iron, take them at different times of the day. They can impair each other's absorption. This is also true of chromium, manganese, magnesium, and zinc.
    • Do not take more than 500 mg of calcium at a time. Taking the calcium with food can help absorption.


    Academy of Nutrition and Dieteticshttp://www.eatright.org/

    The Nutrition Source Harvard School of Public Healthhttp://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/


    Food and Nutrition Health Canadahttp://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/index-eng.php

    Dietitians of Canadahttp://www.dietitians.ca/


    Bowes A, Pennington J, Church H. Bowes & Church Food Values of Portions Commonly Used. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 1998.

    Calcium. EBSCO Natural and Alternative Treatments website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/pointofcare. Updated August 2011. Accessed August 11, 2012.

    Calcium. Office of Dietary Supplements website. Available at: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/calcium.asp. Accessed August 11, 2012.

    Calcium intake and supplementation. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated June 25, 2012. Accessed August 11, 2012.

    Dietary reference intakes for calcium and vitamin D. Institute of Medicine website. Available at: http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2010/Dietary-Reference-Intakes-for-Calcium-and-Vitamin-D/Report-Brief.aspx?page=1. Published November 30, 2010. Accessed August 11, 2012.

    Food and Nutrition Information Center. US Department of Agriculture website. Available at: http://fnic.nal.usda.gov/. Accessed August 11, 2012.

    Garrison RH, Somer E. The Nutrition Desk Reference. New Canaan, CT: Keats Publishing; 1995.

    Groff JL, Gropper S. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism. Belmont, CA: West Publishing Company; 1995.

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