How Much Calcium Do You Need?

milk and fruit

Why is calcium so important? Calcium is one of the most essential minerals for growth and reproduction and bone density maintenance. It allows for the development of strong, healthy teeth and bones. Calcium also plays a key role in blood flow, hormone secretion, muscle contraction and ensuring a normal heartbeat.

Who needs it most? The daily recommendation of calcium varies depending on age and gender. Growing infants, children and adolescents as well as pregnant and lactating women and post-menopausal women all have additional calcium needs. It's important to always consult with your doctor to determine optimal intake levels and to be sure it will not interact negatively with anything you're already taking, but here are some general guidelines:

Daily Calcium Requirements

Lifestage Daily Requirement
1-3 years 500mg
5-8 years 800mg
9-18 years 1300mg
Pregnancy & Lactation 1000mg (1300 mg if <18yrs)
19-50 years 1000mg
>50 years 1200mg


Where You’ll Find it in Common Foods

You’ll easily find calcium in many foods and beverages you commonly consume on a daily basis. A variety of calcium-fortified products are also popping up on shelves these days. Aim for 3-4 servings of some of the items listed below and you’ll be well on your way to your calcium goal! A sample day of eating to get your calcium requirement could look like:

  • Yogurt at breakfast
  • Salad with canned salmon for lunch
  • A glass of skim milk & a handful of almonds for snack
Item Portion Size Calcium (mg)
Plain low-fat yogurt 1 cup (8oz) 415 mg
Skim Plus milk 1 cup (8oz) 400 mg
Canned salmon with bones 3oz 345 mg
Skim & low-fat milk 1 cup (8oz) 302 mg
Low-fat soy, rice, almond milk 1 cup (8oz) 300 – 330 mg (by brand)
Fortified orange juice 1 cup (8oz) 300 mg
Swiss cheese 1 oz 272 mg
Cheddar cheese 1 oz 204 mg
Dark leafy greens, cooked (kale, spinach, collards, bok choy) ½ cup 179 mg *calcium may not be as well absorbed due to fiber content
Almonds 2 oz 150 mg
Black beans 1 cup 120 mg
Blackstrap molasses 1 tbsp 137 mg


Should you Toss those Supplements?

Don’t throw your calcium supplements in the trash just yet. The Council on Responsible Nutrition says even the most conscientious consumers can have difficulty getting the recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals from food alone. Try to get as much of your calcium from your diet as possible, but in the case you need to take a supplement every now and then, look for the following:

  • Calcium citrate, which can be taken at anytime, with or without food, and doesn’t interfere with iron absorption.
  • Calcium carbonate, also a good choice, must be taken with food and shouldn’t be taken along with an iron supplement.  

Remember, a supplement is just that; try to consume the majority of your daily calcium needs from quality dietary sources as listed above.

The Dynamic Duo: Calcium & Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential in enhancing the absorption of calcium. Conveniently, many calcium supplements come in combination with vitamin D, such as Cal-EZ. Vitamin D is also found in many foods including cheese, fortified milk and orange juice, butter, fish and fortified cereals. Even better, exposure to sunshine causes the body to produce vitamin D on its own. Just 10-15 minutes of sun 3 times a week is adequate to produce the body’s required amount of vitamin D.

Heather Bauer, RD CDN
Heather Bauer, RD CDN


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