calcium Calcium is the most prevalent mineral in the human body. About 99% of the body's calcium resides in the bones and teeth, and the remaining 1% is dispersed throughout other body fluids and cells.

Functions

Calcium's functions include:

    
  • Builds bones, both in length and strength
  • Helps bones remain strong by slowing the rate of bone loss with age
  • Helps muscles contract
  • Helps the heart beat
  • Plays a role in normal nerve function, transfers nerve impulses
  • Helps blood clot during bleeding
  • Builds healthy teeth (in kids)
  • Recommended Intake

    The Institute of Medicine offers these recommendations:

    Age Group
    (in years)
    Recommended Dietary Allowance or •Adequate Intake (mg/day)
    FemalesMales
    Birth to 6 months200 milligrams (mg)200 mg
    7-12 months260 mg260 mg
    1-3 years700 mg700 mg
    4-8 years1,000 mg1,000 mg
    9-18 years1,300 mg1,300 mg
    19-50 years1,000 mg1,000 mg
    51-70 years1,200 mg1, 000 mg
    71 years and older1,200 mg1,200 mg
    Pregnant or lactating teens1,300 mgn/a
    Pregnant or lactating adults1,000 mgn/a

    Calcium Deficiency

    In childhood, not getting enough calcium may interfere with growth. A severe deficiency may keep children from reaching their potential adult height. Even a mild deficiency over a lifetime can affect bone density and bone loss, which increases the risk for osteoporosis.

    If you do not consume enough calcium, your body will draw from the storage in your bones in order to supply enough calcium for its other functions: nerve transmission, muscle contraction, heartbeat, and blood clotting.

    Symptoms of a calcium deficiency include:

        
  • Intermittent muscle contractions
  • Muscle pain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
  • Rickets in children
  • Osteoporosis in adults
  • Calcium Toxicity

    Very large doses over a prolonged period of time may cause kidney stones and poor kidney function. Your body may not absorb other minerals, such as iron , magnesium , and zinc , properly. These problems could occur from consuming too much through a calcium supplement, not from milk or other calcium-rich foods. The tolerable upper intake level (UL) depends on age.

    Age Group
    (in years)
    Upper Level Intake (mg/day)
    FemalesMales
    Birth to 6 months1,000 milligrams (mg)1,000 mg
    7-12 months1,500 mg1,500 mg
    1-8 years2,500 mg2,500 mg
    9-18 years3,000 mg3,000 mg
    19-50 years2,500 mg2,500 mg
    51 years and older2,000 mg2,000 mg
    Pregnant or lactating teens3,000 mgn/a
    Pregnant or lactating adults2,500 mgn/a

    Major Food Sources

    Dairy foods—milk, yogurt, and some cheeses—are the best dietary sources of calcium. These foods are also rich in vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium.

    FoodServing size Calcium content
    (mg)
    Yogurt1 cup300-400
    Milk1 cup300-400
    Macaroni and cheese, homemade1 cup362
    Parmesan cheese1 Tbsp336
    Eggnog, nonalcoholic1 cup330
    Chocolate milk1 cup300
    Ricotta cheese½ cup300
    Powdered milk¼ cup290
    Cheddar cheese1 ounce250
    Swiss cheese1 ounce250
    Provolone cheese1 ounce215
    Cheese pizza1/6 frozen pizza210
    Mozzarella cheese1 ounce175
    American cheese1 ounce160
    Cottage cheese1 cup120
    Frozen yogurt, soft serve½ cup100
    Ice cream½ cup80

    Absorption of calcium from some other dietary sources is not as great as that from dairy foods. Specifically, dark green vegetables contain oxalates, and grains contain phytates, which can bind with calcium and decrease their absorption.

    Read food labels to determine the specific calcium levels of these foods.

    FoodServing size Calcium content
    (mg)
    Tofu, regular, processed with calcium½ cup435
    Calcium-fortified soy milk1 cup250-300
    Salmon, canned with edible bones3 ounces212
    Calcium-fortified orange juice¾ cup200
    Blackstrap molasses1 Tbsp172
    Pudding, from cook & serve mix½ cup150
    Dried figs5 pieces135
    Tofu, regular (processed without calcium)½ cup130
    Anchovies with edible bones3 ounces125
    Turnip greens, boiled½ cup100
    Milk chocolate bar1.5 ounce85
    Okra, boiled½ cup77
    Tempeh½ cup77
    Kale, boiled½ cup70
    Mustard greens, boiled½ cup65
    Orange1 medium50
    Pinto beans½ cup45

    Health Implications

    Bone Health and Osteoporosis Prevention

    Calcium is essential to build and maintain strong bones at all stages of life. Bone growth begins at conception, and bones grow longer and wider until well into the 20s. After this type of growth is complete, bones gain in strength and density as they continue to build up to peak bone mass by about age 35. From this point on, as a natural part of the aging process, bones slowly lose mass. Calcium is essential to slow this natural loss and stave off the onset of osteoporosis—a disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to break.

    Tips for Increasing Your Calcium Intake

        
  • When making oatmeal or other hot cereal, use milk instead of water.
  • Add powdered milk to hot cereal, casseroles, baked goods, and other hot dishes.
  • Make your own salad dressing by combining low-fat plain yogurt with herbs.
  • Add tofu (processed with calcium) to soups and pasta sauce.
  • If you like fish, eat canned fish with bones on crackers or bread.
  • For dessert, try low-fat frozen yogurt, ice cream, or pudding.
  • In baked goods, replace half of the fat with plain yogurt.
  • Taking Supplements

    If you are unable to meet your calcium needs through dietary sources, consider a calcium supplement. Some points to remember when choosing and using a calcium supplement include:

        
  • Check the label because the amount of calcium differs among products.
  • Avoid supplements with dolomite or bone meal; they may contain lead.
  • Check your vitamin D intake, too. This vitamin is essential for absorption of calcium. Milk is a great source of vitamin D, as is sunlight.
  • If you take both calcium and iron supplements or a multivitamin with iron, take them at different times of the day. They can impair each other's absorption. This is also true of chromium, manganese, magnesium, and zinc.
  • Do not take more than 500 mg of calcium at a time. Taking the calcium with food can help absorption.