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Calcium is an essential element and the most abundant mineral in the human body. It plays a determining role in bone development, maintenance, and strength until about the age of 30 years. After that point, the body tends to lose bone mass. This is why adequate calcium intake is important regardless of age, especially for women.

Continuing to eat foods rich in calcium remains important, even when bone mass is no longer being actively built, since they serve as reserves for the body. If you are not getting enough calcium from your diet, it will take what it needs from your bones. Fortunately, calcium will be stored in your bones if your diet is rich in calcium. If your calcium reserves fall short of your body’s needs, your bones can become more fragile and tend to break easier.

  • Calcium regularizes heart beat and blood pressure. Moreover, it can reduce the risks of hypertension (abnormally high blood pressure).
  • It also plays an important role in blood clotting, which is essential in healing from injury.
  • Calcium is required for bone and tooth development.
  • The nervous system requires it to function properly.
  • The muscles need calcium to contract and relax, which makes movement possible.

Dietary Sources

Calcium is found mainly in dairy products such as milk, cheese, yogurt, and milk desserts. Some soy beverages and juices are enriched with calcium. Check the nutrition label of these products to determine their calcium content.

Milk is the best dietary source of calcium. Vitamin D, which is added to milk, also helps the body absorb calcium. Milk is also a major source of riboflavin and potassium.

Canned fish with bones, such as salmon and sardines, as well as certain vegetables (such as broccoli and kale/collards), nuts, seeds, and dried beans also contain calcium, but in smaller amounts than dairy products. While tofu also contains calcium, the content is often low and varies from brand to brand.

The following table presents the calcium content of various foods.

Calcium Content of Some Foods
Food Serving Calcium (mg)
2% milk 250 mL (1 cup) 314
Stirred yogurt with fruit 250 mL (1 cup) 357
Cheese, cheddar 2.5-cm cube 118
Pink salmon, canned, with bones 125 mL (½ cup) 167
Sardines, canned, with bones 100 g 382
Broccoli, raw 1 stem and 1 flower 72
Kale/collards, raw 250 mL (1 cup) 96
Red kidney beans, canned 250 mL (1 cup) 73
Chickpeas, canned 250 mL (1 cup) 81
Almonds, dried, unblanched 15 mL (1 tbs.) 24
Brazil nuts, dried, unblanched 5 medium 31

Practical Advice

According to a Québec provincial nutrition survey (Enquête québécoise sur la nutrition de 1990), most adults do not consume enough milk and alternatives to meet their calcium needs. Both vitamin D and calcium are essential for growth in children and teenagers. Current studies tend to show that children drink large amounts of juice, which cuts down on the amount of milk they drink.

It is therefore important to consume an adequate amount of milk and alternatives as well as foods rich in calcium whatever your age.

Calcium Supplements

It is better to meet your calcium requirements through diet rather than taking supplements. Foods rich in calcium also contain other nutrients that play important roles in the body’s functioning. For example, in addition to calcium, milk and alternatives provide protein; vitamin D, which helps with calcium absorption; vitamin A; magnesium; and phosphorus, which helps strengthen bones.

If you eat foods rich in calcium at every meal, you probably do not need to take supplements. On the other hand, if your calcium intake is low and you don’t drink milk or calcium-enriched soy beverages, you might need a calcium supplement. Calcium carbonate and calcium citrate are two supplements that are easily absorbed. Consult a dietician for an assessment of your diet and recommendations for calcium supplements, if you need them.

Dietary Reference Intakes

Teenagers need more calcium than adults because their bones are developing. This is why the dietary reference intake (DRI) for teenagers is 1300 mg a day.

Age Groups Calcium Requirements (mg/day) Tolerable upper intake level (mg/day)
0–6 months 200 1000
7–12 months 260 1500
1–3 years 700 2500
4–8 years 1000 2500
9-18 ans 1300 3000
19–50 years 1000 2500
51–70 years 1000 2000
71 years or older 1200 2000
19–50 years 1000 2500
51–70 years 1200 2000
71 years or older 1200 2000
During pregnancy and breastfeeding
18 years or younger 1300 3000
19–50 years 1000 2500

No tolerable upper intake level (UL)  for calcium is the largest quantity that does not cause health risks in most people. The more that intake exceeds the UL, the greater the risk of side effects.