The Best Dietary Sources of Calcium in Five Calcium-Rich Foods

The Ultimate Guide to Calcium-Rich Foods, Sources of Calcium, and Calcium Content in Foods High in Calcium

The Best Dietary Sources of Calcium in Five Calcium-Rich Foods

Calcium is an essential mineral that's abundant in many foods. It's vital for bone health and plays a role in muscle contraction, blood clotting, and nerve function. This article will explore The best source found in food of calcium, how much you need, and whether supplements are recommended.

1. Which calcium deficiency symptoms?

Not getting enough of this essential mineral can lead to brittle bones and an increased risk of fractures. Other symptoms of calcium deficiency include:

  • Muscle cramps and twitches
  • Numbness or tingling in the fingers, toes, and lips
  • Poor appetite
  • Lethargy and fatigue
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Osteoporosis over the long term

Young children who don't get enough calcium can face impaired growth and rickets. Deficiency is rare in healthy people who eat a balanced diet, but certain medical conditions like digestive disorders can increase the risk.

2. How much calcium do you need daily?

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for calcium is:

  • 1,000 mg per day for adults up to age 50
  • 1,200 mg for women over 50
  • 1,000-1,200 mg for men over 70

During pregnancy and lactation, the RDA rises to 1,000-1,300 mg per day. The National Institutes of Health recommends getting adequate calcium from food rather than supplements whenever possible.

3. Do you need to take calcium supplements?

Most healthy adults don't require to use of calcium supplements if their dietary calcium intake meets the recommendations. They are taking more than the RDA hasn't been shown to provide extra bone strengthening.

Supplements may be appropriate for:

  • Postmenopausal women are unable to get enough of this essential mineral from food alone
  • Vegans and vegetarians who avoid dairy products
  • People with lactose intolerance or milk allergies
  • Those with osteoporosis or increased risk for fractures
  • Older adults with reduced absorption of calcium

Talk to your doctor before taking supplements since high amounts can increase heart disease risk. Choose reputable brands verified by an independent testing organization if supplements are needed.

4. What happens to your body if you don’t get enough calcium?

Insufficient calcium intake can cause the following problems:

  • Weak, brittle bones prone to fractures and osteoporosis
  • Increased risk of developing hypertension from overactivated PTH
  • Muscle cramps, spasms, and twitching
  • Poor blood clotting
  • Cognitive issues like confusion and memory loss
  • Greater premenstrual syndrome severity
  • Higher risk of colon cancer

Make sure you meet daily calcium in your diet needs through food and/or supplements to avoid these issues. Adults 19-70 years old require 1,000 mg of calcium daily. The recommendation increases to 1,200 mg for women over 50 and men over 70 to protect bone wellness.

5. Where Your Body’s Calcium Is Stored and How It Gets There

Here's an overview of where calcium ends up when you consume it, and how it reaches those destinations:

  • It’s absorbed into intestinal cells (enterocytes) via transport proteins - this process requires vitamin D.
  • Enteroctyes release calcium into circulation. It's carried to tissues bound to proteins - primarily albumin.
  • The parathyroid hormone (PTH) directs circulating calcium into the bone matrix, where osteoblasts incorporate it.
  • Bone acts as the main storage site. The body tightly regulates blood calcium, pulling it from bone as needed.
  • Excess calcium is excreted through urine, feces, and sweat. The kidneys filter and reabsorb calcium to maintain optimal levels.

Getting enough of this essential mineral ensures your bones serve as a plentiful reserve supply of this critical nutrient.

6. Functions of Calcium in the Body Beyond Bone Health

While bone wellness and calcium levels are intimately linked, calcium has several other vital roles:

  • Muscle contraction - Calcium allows muscles to contract. It activates troponin and initiates muscle contraction at the cellular level.
  • Nerve transmission - Nerve cells use calcium to carry electrical signals through the nervous system. This stimulates nerve impulses and enables neurons to communicate.
  • Hormone and enzyme secretion - Many hormones like insulin are activated by calcium. It also aids the secretion of digestive enzymes.
  • Blood clotting - Clotting factors in the blood require calcium to function properly and form clots after injury.
  • Cell messaging - Calcium aids communication between cells and is a common intracellular messenger. It helps regulate various cell processes.

Ensuring adequate calcium is crucial for maintaining these and other essential systemic functions.

7. Factors that Affect Calcium Absorption in Your Gut

Several factors influence how much of the calcium you consume ends up being absorbed:

  • Vitamin D activates transport proteins that carry calcium into intestinal cells. Adequate vitamin D is required for optimal absorption.
  • Phytates in grains, bran, and seeds bind to calcium, inhibiting absorption. Soaking, sprouting, and fermenting can reduce phytates.
  • Oxalates in spinach, sweet potatoes, and beans also impede calcium uptake. Cooking helps decrease oxalates.
  • Fiber, fat, and protein slow digestion, giving calcium more time to be absorbed. Eating calcium with meals is best.
  • Caffeine and excess sodium and protein increase calcium excretion. Limiting these helps retention.

Taking these factors into account can maximize the amount of calcium your body retains from food and supplements.

8. The Importance of Dietary Calcium for Strong Bones and Teeth

Calcium plays a key structural role in bones and teeth. About 99% of the body's calcium is stored in bones and teeth, where it supports their strength and hardness. Bone is constantly remodeling itself - old bone is broken down and new bone is made to replace it. An ongoing calcium supply is needed for optimal bone mineral density.

In childhood and adolescence, adequate calcium promotes healthy bone growth and development. The teen years are particularly crucial. During the bone growth spurts that occur in puberty, the rate of bone calcium deposition nearly doubles.

In adulthood, sufficient calcium prevents excessive bone loss. As we age, more bone is broken down than rebuilt, leading to gradually decreasing bone mass. Getting enough of this essential mineral can help tip that balance back towards maintaining strong bones as you get older.

For the elderly, adequate dietary or supplemental calcium becomes particularly important. After age 50, calcium absorption decreases. Older women especially require sufficient calcium to prevent osteoporosis.

9. What calcium-rich foods prevent deficiency?

Focusing on natural foods high in calcium can help meet daily needs and promote long-term bone wellness. The best sources of calcium found in food are:

  • Milk, yogurt, and cheese are excellent options. One cup of milk has 300 mg, yogurt 415 mg, and cheddar cheese 307 mg.
  • Fortified plant milk like soy milk has 299-500 mg of calcium per cup depending on the brand.
  • Canned fish with bones such as sardines and salmon have 324-371 mg per can.
  • Fortified cereals and orange juice contain 200-350 mg calcium in each serving.
  • Leafy greens like collard greens, kale, and bok choy have over 100 milligrams of calcium in each cooked cup.
  • Beans, lentils, tofu, almonds, and seeds also contribute smaller amounts.

Varying your sources helps optimize the absorption of calcium. Aim to get about 600 mg from foods daily, then make up any shortfall with supplements if needed.

10. How much calcium do enriched foods provide?

Many common foods are enriched or fortified with calcium to help people meet their needs. Here's how much-added calcium they contain per serving:

  • Fortified orange juice: 300 mg
  • Fortified oatmeal: 100-200 mg
  • Fortified breakfast cereals like Total or Grape Nuts: 200-350 mg
  • Calcium-set tofu: 200-400 mg
  • Fortified plant milk like soy milk: 200-500 mg
  • Calcium-fortified juices and snacks: 50-500 mg

Check labels and opt for fortified brands to maximize calcium at meals and snacks. Foods made with added isolated calcium tend to be well absorbed.

11. Where can you get calcium intake?

The best sources of calcium in most diets include:

  • Milk and dairy products like yogurt, cheese, kefir, and cottage cheese
  • Fortified plant-based milk and juices
  • Canned seafood with bones like sardines and salmon
  • Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collard greens, and broccoli
  • Soy products like tofu and tempeh
  • Fortified breakfast cereals and oatmeal
  • Nuts, seeds, beans, and lentils
  • Calcium-enriched snack foods and bottled drinks

Aim to include three or more excellent sources of calcium from these food groups daily as part of a balanced diet. Supplements can fill in any shortfall.

12. Which fortified foods are naturally rich in calcium?

Some fortified foods combine added calcium with naturally occurring amounts for an extra boost. Foods that are both fortified and naturally rich in calcium include:

  • Fortified orange juice - Provides around 300 mg of added calcium plus about 50 mg naturally occurring per cup.
  • Soy milk - Offers 200-500 mg added plus about 100 mg natural calcium in each cup.
  • Calcium-set tofu - Contains about 200-400 mg added and 150-200 mg natural calcium in each 3-4 ounces.
  • Breakfast cereals like Total and fortified oatmeal - Provide 100-350 mg added plus around 20 mg of natural calcium in each serving.

Getting extra calcium from these doubly rich sources helps you meet your diet's calcium per day needs.

13. Recommended Amount of Calcium Intake Through Food or Supplements Daily

Experts recommend getting as much of your daily calcium in your diet as possible from food, and then using supplements as needed to make up any shortfall. Here’s a look at recommended intakes for adults over 50:

  • 1,200 mg per day is the recommended total from both nutrition and supplements.
  • Aim for 600-800 mg per day from foods like dairy, greens, beans, seafood, and enriched foods.
  • Use of calcium supplements for the remaining 400-600 mg needed to reach the RDA if diet alone falls short.

Consuming a minimum of 500-600 mg daily from various foods like yogurt, kale, and enriched orange juice is ideal for long-term bone wellness. Supplements can help fill nutrition gaps but aren't a substitute for calcium-rich foods.

14. Do all calcium-rich foods provide the calcium you need?

Not necessarily. Some great sources of calcium are better absorbed than others:

  • Dairy products offer a highly absorbable form of calcium. About 30% of the calcium in milk and yogurt gets absorbed.
  • Dark leafy greens like spinach and kale contain substantial calcium, but the plant form has a relatively low bioavailability of around 5%.
  • Added calcium in enriched foods is typically very absorbable, similar to dairy.
  • Supplemental calcium citrate is absorbed at a 22% rate versus calcium carbonate at 29% absorption.

Focus on dairy, calcium-fortified foods, and supplements for your primary sources to maximize the usable calcium you obtain from your diet.

15. What non-dairy choices are excellent sources of calcium?

Those avoiding dairy have many options to help meet calcium needs:

  • Fortified plant milk such as soy, almond, oat, and rice milk frequently contain the same amount of calcium as dairy milk.
  • Tofu made with calcium sulfate contains 200-400 mg calcium per 3-4 ounce serving.
  • Canned fish with bones like sardines and salmon have over 300 milligrams of calcium in each can.
  • Fortified orange juice can have 300 mg or more of added calcium per cup.
  • Kale, broccoli, bok choy, and other greens supply around 100 mg of calcium in each cooked cup.
  • Chia seeds, almonds, white beans, soybeans, and figs offer 50-100 mg of calcium in each serving.

Getting adequate calcium from non-dairy foods may take a little extra planning but is completely doable. Supplements can help fill any gaps.

16. Does plant milk match the inherent mineral wealth of rich dairy foods that are rich?

Fortified plant milk can provide comparable amounts of calcium and other minerals found in dairy milk. For example:

  • Cow's milk contains about 300 mg of calcium per cup naturally, while fortified soy milk has about 299-500 mg added.
  • Plant milk is often enriched with vitamin D to levels similar to dairy milk.
  • Fortified plant milk also has added vitamin A, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc to mimic dairy's inherent mineral profile.

However, plant sources like rice, oats, and nuts don't naturally contain the same micronutrients as cow's milk before fortification. Check labels to find plant-based options with this essential mineral, vitamin D, and other added nutrients comparable to dairy.

Key Takeaways:

  • Calcium is essential for bones, muscles, heart function, and nerve transmission. Low intakes can increase osteoporosis and fracture risk.
  • Adults need 1,000-1,200 mg of calcium daily from a mix of foods and possibly supplements. Pregnant women need 1,000-1,300 mg daily.
  • Dairy products, calcium-fortified foods, greens, seafood with bones, soy foods, and juices with added calcium are excellent dietary sources.
  • Those who can’t meet their needs from food alone may benefit from taking calcium supplements under medical supervision.
  • To optimize absorption, try to get 500-600 mg of your calcium per day from various foods and the rest from supplements if needed.
  • Check the label when buying plant milk, juices, cereals, and other products to find options fortified with substantial amounts of absorbable calcium.

Getting enough of this essential mineral from a balanced diet focused on nutrient-dense foods provides the best insurance for lifelong bone wellness. Carefully chosen supplements can help fill any dietary gaps when needed.


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