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Calcium: Are you getting enough?

Calcium is a mineral found in foods such as milk, yogurt, and cheese, as well as in plant-based foods, such as soybeans, tofu, dark green leafy vegetables, canned salmon, almonds, sardines, beans/lentils and calcium-fortified juice and plant-based milk. Why is calcium important? We often associate calcium with bone health, but it has many other functions in the body as well. Calcium plays a role in muscle contraction, regulating your heartbeat and blood clotting, stabilizing blood pressure, hormone production, and maintaining a healthy nervous system and brain function. Calcium clearly is an important mineral we need, but most of us don’t get enough in our diet which can impact our health.

How much calcium do I need? The amount of calcium you need depends on your age, if you are rehabbing an injury, or amenorrheic (missed periods) or postmenopausal, all which increase your calcium needs. Most teens need about 1,300 mg daily, whereas an adult needs about 1,000 mg daily. Adults over 50 or postmenopausal women need more calcium, 1,200 mg daily, to reduce bone loss related to declines in calcium absorption. Finally, female athletes experiencing amenorrhea should get about 1,500 mg calcium daily to prevent bone loss associated due to poor energy intake and hormone changes negatively impacting bone health. If you are recovering from a bone injury (stress fracture or bone fracture) you may need up to 2,000 mg of calcium daily, but please discuss your individual calcium needs with your physician or sports dietitian before supplementing with additional calcium. More is not always better. How much calcium is found in foods? Foods highest in calcium are primarily dairy based, such as milk and yogurt, but you can get enough from other food sources such as greens and plant-based foods as well. For example, drinking one cup of milk contains 300 mg of calcium, and a cup of broccoli contains about 60 mg. This means you would have to drink 3-4 cups of milk daily or at least 2 cups of milk plus 1 cup of yogurt and 5 cups of broccoli to meet your calcium needs! It’s doable to meet your calcium needs through diet, but supplementation may be necessary if you avoid dairy products or are unable get enough calcium from diet alone. What happens if I don’t get enough calcium? Measuring blood calcium does not reflect bone calcium, so you really can’t determine your bone health through a blood test. If you are at risk of osteopenia or osteoporosis, experience stress fractures, frequent bone fractures, or have amenorrhea, you may consider getting a DEXA scan to better assess your bone health. In addition, you may not be getting enough calcium in your diet if you are reducing your calories to lose weight, are a “heavy sweater” leading to calcium losses, or eating a vegan diet (avoid dairy products). What are other minerals to consider? Calcium is not the only mineral vital for bone health. Getting enough vitamin D, magnesium, and vitamin K2 are just as important to work with calcium to promote healthy bones and calcium absorption. You may be getting enough vitamin D through a supplement, but if your diet lacks calcium, magnesium and vitamin K2, your bone health may suffer as well.

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