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Publication #FCS8568

Healthy Eating: Calcium1

Linda B. Bobroff2

What is calcium?

Calcium is the major mineral found in our bones and teeth. We need calcium for proper functioning of muscles and nerves. Calcium also helps our blood to clot.

Calcium is a critical nutrient at every stage of life. We are best able to put calcium into our bones to make them strong early in life. Then, as we get older, it's important to get enough calcium to avoid bone loss. Vitamin D helps us absorb calcium, so it is also important to get enough of this nutrient throughout our lives.

Many older people do not get enough calcium from the foods they eat. This can lead to the bone disease osteoporosis. People with osteoporosis are at high risk of having a bone fracture.

Figure 1. 



Photo by Vee Satayamas. Used here under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Source:

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

What foods contain calcium?

In the U.S., the major sources of calcium for many people are dairy foods. This includes milk, yogurt, cheese, and ice cream. For heart health, low-fat or fat-free versions of dairy foods are recommended.

Many green vegetables are good calcium sources, too. Kale, romaine lettuce, and broccoli all provide calcium. Spinach contains many nutrients, including calcium, but the oxalic acid in this green vegetable keeps calcium from getting into our bodies.

Figure 2. 

Tofu, kale, and black beans


Photo by Nora Kuby. Used here under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. Source:

[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Other calcium sources are legumes (such as kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, and lentils), tofu (processed with calcium), and nuts. Many foods are now fortified with calcium. You can even get calcium in orange juice!

What happens if I don't get enough calcium?

Because it is needed for so many body functions, our bodies have hormones that control our blood calcium levels. When you don't get enough calcium, parathyroid hormone (PTH) causes calcium to be taken from bones to keep blood levels normal.

Over time, if you don't get enough calcium, your bones will begin to become porous and weak. As your bone loss becomes severe, you may develop the bone disease called osteoporosis. Your doctor can order a bone density test to confirm that you have osteoporosis.

What are hormones?

Hormones are chemical messengers. They are made in one part of the body and then travel to another organ or tissue. Once there, the hormones affect specific body processes.

How much calcium do I need?

The recommended intake for men ages 19–70 and women ages 19–50 is 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day. Women 51 years and older and men over 70 should aim to get 1,200 milligrams a day. This is more than most people get from the foods they eat. Some people may need more calcium to decrease their risk of osteoporosis. Check with your health care provider to see how much calcium you should get each day.

To get the calcium you need, eat foods that are naturally high in calcium, as well as foods that have calcium added. If you think you aren’t getting enough of this mineral, look at the list of foods containing calcium and choose one or two to add to your diet. Speak with your health care provider before you decide to take calcium supplements.

Where can I get more, reliable information about my nutrition?

The Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS) agent at your county Extension office may have more written information and nutrition classes for you to attend. Also, a registered dietitian (RD) can provide reliable information to you. Call your Area Agency on Aging for information about meal programs that may be offered in your area. Reliable nutrition information may be found on the Internet at the following sites:

■ [September 2011]


Table 1. 

Amounts of calcium in certain foods




Yogurt, low-fat, fruit, 1 cup


Milk, low-fat, 1 cup


Tofu, raw, firm, ½ cup


Orange juice with calcium, ¾ cup


Cheddar cheese, low-fat, 1½ ounces


Kale, frozen, cooked, ½ cup


Black beans, cooked, ½ cup


Broccoli, cooked, ½ cup


Kidney beans, cooked, ½ cup





La versión en español de este documento es Alimentacion Saludable: Calcio (FCS8568-Span). Originally developed with funding from the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, in partnership with state, county, and local agencies, this document is FCS8568, one of series of the Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, UF/IFAS Extension. Originally published September 1999. Revised March 2010, August 2011, and October 2014. Visit the EDIS website at


Linda B. Bobroff, PhD, RD, LD/N, professor; Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.