Calcium is an important macromineral that is absolutely necessary for healthy bones and teeth. It helps your heart and nerves function properly and helps your blood to clot.
Scientists used to think that calcium intake was important only up to age 20 to 30, when bone growth and development are complete. Research has made clear that adequate calcium intake is important throughout life. It's especially important for young women and women entering menopause to get enough of this essential mineral.
How Much Calcium Is Enough?
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for calcium is:
- 1,000 milligrams a day for women and men ages 19 to 50
- 1,200 milligrams a day for men and women age 51 and older
- 1,000 milligrams a day for pregnant or breastfeeding women
Taking antacids made of calcium carbonate or vitamin supplements with calcium can also help supplement your dietary intake of calcium. Take calcium supplements between meals, not with food, for best results. But don't rely only on calcium supplements - only about 40% of calcium is absorbed from supplements. For example, if you took a calcium carbonate supplement that contained 600 milligrams of calcium, you'll only absorb about 240 milligrams. Make sure that calcium-rich foods are a part of your daily diet.
Good Sources of Calcium
- Milk (low- or non-fat varieties are best if you are watching your fat intake)
- Green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, broccoli, bok choy, collards and Chinese cabbage
- Canned salmon or any fish with bones
- Calcium-fortified juices
Can You Have Too Much or Too Little?
According to the National Library of Medicine, an intake of up to 2,000 milligrams a day from foods appears to be safe. However, some foods that are high in calcium are also high in oxalic acid, which interferes with the body's ability to absorb calcium. Spinach, collard greens and kale are oxalic-rich foods. There may be an increased risk of kidney stones in persons susceptible to kidney stones who have high calcium intakes.
Too little calcium in the diet can lead to calcium deficiency and osteoporosis, a weakening of the bones that puts people at increased risk for fractures. People with calcium deficiencies may also suffer from dental problems and hypertension.
Taking more minerals than you need won't make you healthier. In some cases taking too much of a mineral can make it hard for your body to absorb other vitamins. But you don't want to be deficient in minerals, either. You can avoid vitamin and mineral deficiencies by eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, protein sources, whole grains and dairy products every day.
People who are lactose intolerant (a condition in which people are unable to process the sugar in milk) may find that they have fewer choices of calcium-rich foods. Lactose-free milk and lactase enzymes may enable a lactose-intolerant person to consume milk and dairy products in addition to plant sources of calcium. In some cases, a health practitioner may recommend a person take a calcium supplement for added protection.
Steroid medications decrease calcium absorption. If you are taking this medication, talk to your health care provider about calcium supplements.