How can I add calcium to my diet?
6/8/2020 by Rose Prissel, MS, RDN, LD
As many of us know, milk is a good source of calcium. But what if you're on a dairy-free diet? Or just don't like milk? Can you still get your daily recommended amount of calcium?
Absolutely! Calcium is found naturally in many foods, and food manufacturers also add it to some food products. The foods best known for calcium are milk, cheese and yogurt. In addition, calcium supplements are another option available to meet calcium needs.
Calcium is known to be beneficial for bone health. However, did you know that calcium keeps your heart muscle pumping and regulates muscle contraction and much more? A diet with adequate calcium helps keep your bones strong, nerves functioning, and heart beating. Just how much you need depends on your age. And remember, like most minerals, there are drawbacks to overdoing calcium.
Recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) for calcium by age/gender
- 0-6 months: 200 mg
- 7-12 months: 260 mg
- 1-3 years: 700 mg
- 4-8 years: 1,000 mg
- 9-18 years: 1,300 mg
- 19-50 years: 1,000 mg
- 51-70 years: 1,000 mg for men and 1,200 mg for women
- 71+ years: 1,200 mg
New labels on foods and supplements now state the amount of calcium a product provides, as well as the % Daily Value (DV). The daily values are reference amounts of nutrients to consume or not exceed.
But what if you're avoiding dairy?
Try to incorporate some of these other calcium-rich foods in your diet:
- These fish varieties, as long as bones are consumed:
- Canned sardines. Check the label to be sure they're canned in oil, bones included.
- Canned pink salmon with bones.
- Check the label on these foods to know how much calcium is in a serving:
- Calcium-fortified soy, almond, oat, and rice milk
- Calcium-fortified orange juice
- Tofu made with calcium sulfate
- Calcium-fortified cereals and English muffins
- Greens. Turnip and collard greens and kale all pack a calcium-rich punch.
- Beans. Garbanzo, kidney, navy and boiled green soybeans are another good option.
- Veggies: Like cooked broccoli, Chinese cabbage, edamame and acorn squash.
- Papaya, dried figs and oranges
Who's at higher risk for calcium deficiency?
If you fall into one of these categories, you should monitor your calcium intake closely.
- Adolescent girls — especially athletes
- Postmenopausal women
- Individuals who are lactose intolerant or have a dairy allergy
- Those with decreased ability to absorb calcium due to certain digestive diseases (such as celiac disease)
How to help improve calcium absorption
- Vitamin D promotes absorption of calcium from the intestine. This helps to build and maintain strong bones.
- Consume your calcium throughout the day.
Even though bone health is the most prominent health reason to consume adequate calcium, remember that the majority of your cells need calcium to survive. Now you know of several calcium options to consider — even if you avoid dairy. Be well!
Rose Prissel, MS, RDN, LD, is a dietitian at Mayo Clinic working in pediatric and adult nutrition, with a focus on preventive care, sports nutrition and weight management.