Calcium

You have more calcium in your body than any other mineral.

Calcium is one of the most important minerals for the human body. It helps form and maintain healthy teeth and bones. A proper level of calcium in the body over a lifetime can help prevent osteoporosis.

Calcium helps your body with:

  • Building strong bones and teeth
  • Clotting blood
  • Sending and receiving nerve signals
  • Squeezing and relaxing muscles
  • Releasing hormones and other chemicals
  • Keeping a normal heartbeat

CALCIUM AND DAIRY PRODUCTS

Many foods contain calcium, but dairy products are the best source. Milk and dairy products such as yogurt, cheeses, and buttermilk contain a form of calcium that your body can easily absorb.

Whole milk (4% fat) is recommended for children ages 1 to 2. Adults and children over age 2 should drink low-fat (2% or 1%) milk or skim milk and other dairy products. Removing the fat will not lower the amount of calcium in a dairy product.

Yogurt, most cheeses, and buttermilk are excellent sources of calcium and come in low-fat or fat-free versions.
Milk is also a good source of phosphorus and magnesium, which help the body absorb and use calcium.
Vitamin D is needed to help your body use calcium. Milk is fortified with vitamin D for this reason.

OTHER SOURCES OF CALCIUM

Other sources of calcium that can help meet your body's calcium needs include:

Green leafy vegetables such as broccoli, collards, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, and bok choy or Chinese cabbage
Salmon and sardines canned with their soft bones
Almonds, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, tahini, and dried beans
Blackstrap molasses

Calcium is often added to food products. These include foods such as orange juice, soy milk, tofu, ready-to-eat cereals, and breads. These are a very good source of calcium for people who do not eat a lot of dairy products.

Ways to make sure you get enough calcium in your diet:

Cook foods in a small amount of water for the shortest possible time to keep more calcium in the foods you eat. (This means steaming or sautéing to cook instead of boiling foods.)
Be careful about the other foods you eat with calcium-rich foods. Certain fibers, such as wheat bran, and foods with oxalic acid (spinach and rhubarb) can bind with calcium and prevent it from being absorbed. This is why leafy greens are not considered an adequate source of calcium by themselves, because your body is unable to utilize much of the calcium they contain. People on a vegan diet need to be sure to also include soy products and fortified products in order to get enough calcium.

DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS

Calcium is also found in many multivitamin-mineral supplements. The amount varies, depending on the supplement. Dietary supplements may contain only calcium, or calcium with other nutrients such as vitamin D. Check the label on the Supplement Facts panel of the package to determine the amount of calcium in the supplement. Calcium absorption is best when taken in amounts of no more than 500 mg at a time.

Two commonly available forms of calcium dietary supplements include calcium citrate and calcium carbonate.

Calcium citrate is the more expensive form of the supplement. It is taken up well by the body on a full or empty stomach.
Calcium carbonate is less expensive. It is absorbed better by the body if taken with food. Calcium carbonate is found in over-the-counter antacid products such as Rolaids or Tums. Each chew or pill usually provides 200 to 400 mg of calcium. Check the label for the exact amount.

Other types of calcium in supplements and foods include calcium lactate, calcium gluconate, and calcium phosphate.