Calcium, the most plentiful mineral in your body, is a nutrient that helps build strong bones. The majority of calcium in your body is stored in your bones and teeth. A small amount is found in your blood, nerve cells, and other soft tissues.
Both males and females require calcium in their diets. Your bones become less dense as you age, putting you at risk for breaks and fractures. The advanced stages of bone thinning is called osteoporosis. Calcium essentially helps fill the gaps in your bones. Calcium intake is especially important for women, as they are five times more likely to get osteoporosis than men, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Calcium can be found in a wide range of foods, such as dairy products, vegetables like spinach, and calcium-fortified foods like breakfast cereals. You can also get the calcium you need through a daily vitamin supplement.
Calcium plays a role in a number of different bodily functions. In addition to making sure your bones and teeth are strong and developing properly, calcium helps your blood clot and your nerves transmit impulses correctly. The mineral also regulates hormone secretion, muscle function, and heartbeat.
Strong bones are not the only benefit associated with calcium. Consistent calcium intake helps regulate blood pressure levels, may relieve symptoms of pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), and can assist with weight loss.
Individuals who don’t consume enough calcium can be at risk for a range of health problems, including osteoporosis and weakened bones. Chronic kidney failure, though rare, can be a result of severe calcium deficiency.
The amount of calcium you need to consume depends on your sex and age. The Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies has developed a recommended daily allowance (RDA) for each major nutrient.
The RDA for calcium is as follows:
- Infants under 6 months old (male and female): 200 mg
- Infants 7 to 12 months old (male and female): 260 mg
- Children 1 to 3 years old (male and female): 700 mg
- Children 4 to 8 years old (male and female): 1000 mg
- Children and adolescents 9 to 18 years old (male and female): 1300 mg
- Adults 19 to 50 years old, including pregnant and breastfeeding mothers: 1000 mg
- Males 50 to 70 years old: 1000 mg
- Females 50 to 70 years old: 1200 mg
- Adults 71 years and older (male and female): 1200 mg
In rare cases, people can consume too much calcium, which could pose medical problems such as constipation and kidney stones. Children should consume no more than 3000 mg of calcium daily, and adults should limit their intake to 2500 mg each day.
Consuming dairy products is the easiest way for most people to get calcium through their diets. Milk, cheese, and yogurt are rich in a type of calcium easily absorbed by the body. Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products to keep your weight in check without compromising your calcium intake. A variety of non-dairy foods contain high levels of calcium, including:
- leafy greens (spinach, bok choy, kale, collard greens, and mustard greens)
- beans (white, red, and pinto)
Some foods don’t contain calcium naturally, but are fortified with the mineral. Examples include breakfast cereals, whole wheat bread, and orange juice. Nutrition labels on your favorite foods can help you plan your meals and snacks to keep your calcium levels where they should be.
A food’s calcium content is listed either in milligrams (mg) or as a percentage based on your daily calorie intake, called a daily value (DV). You may have a hard time determining the calcium content on produce that doesn’t contain nutritional information, such as broccoli. In such cases, don’t worry about the amount of calcium the food contains. Enjoy your food and try to include at least one serving of a calcium-rich food with every meal.
Your doctor may suggest taking a calcium supplement if you don’t eat a lot of dairy or vegetables on a regular basis. Calcium supplements are available in several forms, including tablets and soft chews.
Under the supervision of your doctor, choose calcium supplements that also contain vitamin D. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium more efficiently.