May 1, 2022/Nutrition

22 Calcium-Rich Foods

Boost your bone health with these calcium-packed options

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You know the saying, “There’s no use crying over spilled milk.” But missing out on the vital calcium milk provides may be a reason for a few tears.

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Calcium is an essential mineral that keeps your bones and teeth strong. It’s also necessary for many of your body’s functions, such as muscle movement, blood clotting and nerve signaling.

Your body can’t make calcium — it must come from your diet. And according to registered dietitian Anthony DiMarino, RD, many Americans aren’t getting enough calcium.

Your diet may not contain the calcium you need

“There’s a movement away from dairy products due to a rise in lactose intolerance and plant-based diet patterns,” DiMarino says. “People who don’t eat dairy or have higher calcium requirements should be more vigilant about getting enough calcium every day.”

Recommended dietary allowances for calcium

The amount of calcium you need varies by your age and sex. In general, children, women who are post-menopause and adults over age 70 need more calcium. “As you grow older, your body absorbs less of the calcium in your diet,” explains DiMarino. “For women, hormonal changes during menopause can sap calcium from your bones.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) for calcium in milligrams (mg) are:

Age
0-6 months
Recommended Amount
200 mg
7-12 months
Recommended Amount
260 mg
1-3 years
Recommended Amount
700 mg
4-8 years
Recommended Amount
1,000 mg
9-13 years
Recommended Amount
1,300 mg
14-18 years
Recommended Amount
1,300 mg
19-50 years
Recommended Amount
1,000 mg
51-70 years (men)
Recommended Amount
1,000 mg
51-70 years (women)
Recommended Amount
1,200 mg
71+ years
Recommended Amount
1,200 mg

How calcium deficiency affects your health

Most of the calcium in your body is stored in your bones and teeth. There’s a smaller amount in your blood and tissues.

Your body works hard to maintain a steady level of calcium in your blood. If your blood level falls because you’re not getting enough calcium in your diet, your bones will release calcium to bring the level up.

Over time, this process can weaken your bones and lead to:

  • Osteoporosis: This condition is most common in older adults. It involves a loss of bone mass and an increased risk of fractures. Most people don’t have osteoporosis symptoms until a fracture occurs.
  • Rickets: This childhood disease causes skeletal deformities and delayed growth. Usually, rickets is due to vitamin D deficiency, but it can also result from low calcium.

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Foods that are rich in calcium

Many foods can help increase calcium in your diet, even if you have lactose intolerance or eat a vegan diet. Try eating a variety of these foods to meet your daily calcium requirements:

Dairy products

Milk and dairy products are among the best calcium sources. Just a few servings per day can give you all the calcium you need. When choosing dairy products, don’t forget to look at the calories, fat and sodium, which can be high in some dairy foods.

Food
Vanilla yogurt (low-fat)
Serving Size
8 ounces
Calcium
388 mg
Milk, 1%
Serving Size
1 cup
Calcium
310 mg
Ricotta cheese, whole milk
Serving Size
1/2 cup
Calcium
289 mg
Greek yogurt, plain (low-fat)
Serving Size
8 ounces
Calcium
261 mg
Cottage cheese, 2% fat
Serving Size
1 cup
Calcium
227 mg
Cheddar cheese
Serving Size
1 ounce
Calcium
200 mg

Vegetables and fruit juices

Leafy greens and broccoli are excellent sources of calcium. Generally, fruits aren’t calcium-rich, but some juices are fortified. This means the manufacturer has added calcium to the product. Fortified orange juice has more calcium than a glass of milk.

Food
Orange juice, calcium-fortified
Serving Size
1 cup
Calcium
349 mg
Collard greens, cooked
Serving Size
1 cup
Calcium
268 mg
Spinach, cooked
Serving Size
1 cup
Calcium
245 mg
Bok choy, cooked
Serving Size
1 cup
Calcium
158 mg
Kale, cooked
Serving Size
1 cup
Calcium
177 mg
Broccoli, cooked
Serving Size
1 cup
Calcium
62 mg

Protein-rich foods

Some proteins, such as tofu with added calcium sulfate, and canned fish with bones, are high in calcium. You may need to read the labels closely to decipher which foods can deliver your daily calcium dose.

Food
Tofu, prepared with calcium sulfate
Serving Size
1/2 cup
Calcium
434 mg
Sardines, canned, with bones
Serving Size
3 ounces
Calcium
324 mg
Soy milk, fortified
Serving Size
1 cup
Calcium
299 mg
Black beans, canned
Serving Size
1 cup
Calcium
239 mg
Salmon, canned, with bones
Serving Size
3 ounces
Calcium
181 mg

Grains

Grains aren’t usually rich in calcium but are an important part of a balanced diet. Some breads and cereals are fortified and can be a great option for boosting your calcium intake. Check packaging and labels to find fortified options that you might enjoy.

Nuts and seeds

Some nuts and seeds contain a robust amount of calcium. Try incorporating chia or sesame seeds into a smoothie, salad or your morning cereal.

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Food
Almond milk, unsweetened
Serving Size
1 cup
Calcium
482 mg
Almonds
Serving Size
1/4 cup
Calcium
92 mg
Sesame seeds
Serving Size
1 tablespoon
Calcium
88 mg
Chia seeds
Serving Size
1 tablespoon
Calcium
78 mg
Tahini (sesame butter or paste)
Serving Size
1 tablespoon
Calcium
64 mg

How to read food labels

Reading food labels is an important skill if you’re tracking your calcium intake.

Most food labels tell you exactly how many milligrams of calcium are in a serving. But some will only list the amount of calcium as a percentage of the daily value. In this case, you’ll have to do a calculation.

The percent of the daily recommended value is based on 1,200 milligrams of calcium. If the exact milligrams of calcium aren’t listed, you’ll need to determine the amount based on the percentage. For example, if one cup of milk is listed as 25% of the daily recommended value, then 25% of 1,200 is 300, so it has 300 milligrams of calcium.

And don’t forget to check the serving size. If you consume more or less than a serving, the amount of calcium will change accordingly. So, if one cup of milk has 300 milligrams of calcium, a half-cup contains 150 milligrams.

Tips for people with lactose intolerance

Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest lactose, a type of sugar found in cow’s milk. It occurs if you don’t have enough of the enzyme lactase, which helps you break down and digest lactose.

“People with lactose intolerance may still be able to eat dairy products with lower levels of milk sugar, such as hard cheeses and yogurt,” says DiMarino. “Everyone’s tolerance is a little different, so it might require some trial and error.”

Other calcium-rich options DiMarino recommends if you have lactose intolerance include:

  • Lactose-free dairy products.
  • Calcium-fortified beverages such as soy milk, almond milk or fruit juice.
  • Nondairy foods such as leafy greens, canned salmon with bones, almonds and tofu processed with calcium sulfate.

To find out the nutritional content of your favorite foods, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a handy tool you can use.

When to take calcium supplements

Supplements may be an option if you can’t get enough calcium in your diet. DiMarino recommends talking to your healthcare provider or dietitian before taking a supplement.

There are two main types of calcium supplements:

  • Calcium carbonate is absorbed best with food.
  • Calcium citrate can be taken with or without food.

Read the labels carefully to find out the calcium levels and serving size. And remember that your body can only absorb about 500 milligrams at a time. If you need more than that, DiMarino recommends spacing out the doses during the day.

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How to know if you have calcium deficiency

Since your bones weaken slowly over time, you might not know if you aren’t getting enough calcium. Many people don’t notice any symptoms until a bone fractures.

To prevent fractures related to osteoporosis, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends bone density screening for women age 65 and older. Healthcare providers may also screen postmenopausal women under 65 who are at risk of developing osteoporosis.

The best way to know if you’re getting enough calcium is to pay attention to your diet. By choosing calcium-rich foods, you can protect your bone health now and into the future.

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