Most people equate calcium with milk. While milk does contain calcium, there are many people who wish to avoid milk products for other health reasons. Are there any sources of calcium for those of us who do not drink milk?

There sure are, other excellent sources of calcium are green vegetables, legumes, tofu, calcium-fortified fruit juices, almonds, soy milk, and rice milk, among others. (Scroll ahead to the chart at the end of the article if you want the details.)

Why is Calcium Important for the Body?

Calcium is actually the most abundant mineral in the human body. It is mostly found in our bones and teeth, but it is also found in the blood and extracellular fluids, where it helps to regulate metabolic functions. So why does the body need calcium and why should we ensure we are consuming enough? For starters, calcium is what helps keep our bones and teeth nice and strong throughout our lifetime. Consuming too little calcium can lead to loss of bone density, which increases our risk of breaking or fracturing our bones.

What is the Recommended Dietary Allowance for Calcium?

Since calcium is needed for many things, it is important to make sure we are getting enough in our diets. For most people over the age of 50, the recommended amount of calcium is 1,200 mg per day. For those under 50 it is recommended to consume 1,000 mg per day.

However, there is an upper tolerable limit when it comes to calcium. You do not want to exceed greater than 2,500 mg per day, because too much can lead to hypercalcemia. This can lead to calcification in soft tissues, mostly in the kidneys, which can be life-threatening. Constipation may occur in high levels of calcium intake as well. Here is a quick chart to see the recommended calcium consumption for your age group:

Male Female
1-8 years 200-260 mg 200-260 mg
9-18 years 1,300 mg 1,300 mg
19-50 years 1,000 mg 1,000 mg
51+ years 1,200 mg 1,200 mg
Pregnant or Lactating 1,000 mg per day
1,300 mg per day if 14-18 years

What Enhances Calcium Absorption?

On average, only 30% of calcium is absorbed in adults, so it is important to make sure we are increasing the opportunity for our bodies to absorb calcium. There are certain foods and nutrients that can help with this, these include: vitamin D, lactose, protein, sugar and xylitol.

What Inhibits Calcium Absorption?

Some inhibitors of calcium absorption include phosphorus, high levels of salt, zinc, magnesium, and unabsorbed fatty acids. Diets where the intake of fiber is greater than 30 grams a day may also have an effect on calcium absorption. Some other factors affecting calcium are sodium, protein and caffeine. These compounds increase the amount of calcium excreted in the urine.

Medical Issues Related to Calcium Deficiency

Low calcium intake can hurt the body in many ways. Long term calcium deficiencies can lead to osteoporosis, which is the weakening of the bones, and puts a person at higher risk for fractures and breaks. Hypocalcemia (a low presence of calcium in the blood) may result in tetany, a condition which causes muscle cramping or seizure and occurs mostly in the arms and legs. Low calcium levels can also lead to high blood pressure when the calcium intake is less than 500 mg per day.

Calcium plays an important role in our bodies, so it’s crucial to make sure we are consuming foods rich in calcium. Although some people may need to take a supplement, the body is able to absorb calcium much easier when it is found in the foods we eat. If you are needing calcium supplements, make sure you take it twice a day in the form of 500 mg each. Also, it is beneficial to take supplements with meals to improve absorption. Some products are available with added calcium such as calcium-fortified orange juice.

Just remember, when we eat foods in a natural form, the body is better able to absorb and use the calcium we consume. For those looking for plant based sources of calcium, here is a table with some excellent sources:

Foods containing Calcium Amount Calcium (mg)
Blackstrap molasses 2 Tbsp 400
Collard Greens, cooked 1 cup 357
Plant milks, calcium fortified 8 ounces 200-500
Tofu, processed with calcium sulfate 4 ounces 200-420
Orange juice, calcium fortified 8 ounces 350
Soy yogurt 6 ounces 300
Turnip greens, cooked 1 cup 249
Tempeh 1 cup 184
Kale 1 cup 179
Soybeans, cooked 1 cup 175
Bok choy, cooked 1 cup 158
Navy beans, cooked 1 cup 126
Almond butter 2 Tbsp 111
Almonds, whole 1/4 cup 94
Broccoli, cooked 1 cup 62

We hope you feel more knowledgeable about why we need calcium and where to get it. We wish you well on your continuing journey to stronger bones and better health.

Sources:

Mahan, Escott-Stump, Raymond. 13th edition. Food and the Nutrition Care Process. Pg 92-95, 359.

Winston J. Craig, PhD, RD. 2nd edition. Nutrition and Wellness. Pages 196, 197.

 


About the Author

Kylee Melo, RD

is a registered dietitian who enjoys running and vegan cooking. Be sure to check out her blog: Veganrunningdietitian

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