Calcium is the most prevalent mineral in the human body. It plays an important role in maintaining good health. For example:
- Calcium is essential to build and maintain strong bones at all stages of life, and therefore help prevent and/or manage osteoporosis. Calcium may also help with weight loss. In addition, research suggests that calcium and vitamin D supplementation may help to optimize blood glucose metabolism.
- Calcium helps reduce your risk for these serious health conditions:
The recommended intakes for calcium are:
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.
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. However, these foods still provide a good way to add calcium to your diet. Some examples of green vegetables that are good calcium sources are kale, broccoli, and Chinese cabbage.
Read the Nutrition Facts label on tofu and fortified products to determine specific calcium levels of these foods.
- 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, such as salmon or sardines, with soft 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.
Some people have difficulty digesting lactose, which is the main sugar in milk and some dairy products. This occurs when the body does not produce enough of the enzyme lactase to properly digest lactose. People with this condition, called lactose intolerance, may experience nausea, cramping, bloating, abdominal pain, gas, and diarrhea. This can occur anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours after eating milk or milk products.
If you have lactose intolerance, take the following steps to be sure you meet your calcium needs:
- Eat smaller portions of dairy foods. It is possible that you can tolerate more dairy products if they are consumed with food. Many people find that they are able to tolerate ½ cup or ¾ cup of milk at a time, several times during the day, rather than 1 cup or more in one sitting.
- Choose aged cheeses, such as Swiss, Colby, Parmesan, and cheddar, which have most of their lactose removed during processing.
- Try dairy foods made with live, active cultures, such as yogurt and buttermilk. The "friendly" bacteria in these foods help to digest the lactose. These foods should have a "Live and Active Cultures" label.
- Be sure to include nondairy sources of calcium in your daily diet.
If you are unable to meet your calcium needs through dietary sources, ask your doctor if you should take a calcium supplement. The 2 main types of supplements are carbonate and citrate. Calcium carbonate (Tums and Rolaids) is best taken with food. Calcium citrate can be taken with or without food, and may have better absorption in people older than 50 years old. Some points to remember when choosing and using a calcium supplement include:
- Since the amount of calcium differs among products, check the label.
- 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, take them at different times of the day, because they can impair each other's absorption.
- If you take more than 500 mg of supplemental calcium, space it out throughout the day; it is better absorbed that way.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD, FAAP
- Review Date: 03/2017 -
- Update Date: 03/09/2015 -