Calcium

Esta guía en Español Young men's version of this guide
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someonePrint this page

calciumCalcium is a mineral that gives strength to your bones. Calcium is also necessary for many of your body’s functions, such as blood clotting and nerve and muscle function. During the teenage years (particularly ages 11-15), your bones are developing quickly and are storing calcium so that your skeleton will be strong later in life. Nearly half of all bone is formed during these years. It’s important that you get plenty of calcium in your diet because if the rest of the body doesn’t get the calcium it needs, it takes calcium from the only source that it has: your bones. This can lead to brittle bones later in life and broken bones or stress fractures at any time. Unfortunately, most teen girls actually do not get enough calcium in their diet.

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a bone disease that develops slowly and is usually caused by a combination of genetics and too little calcium in the diet. Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to break. Osteoporosis can also lead to shortened height because of collapsing spinal bones and can cause a hunched back.

How do I know if I’m at risk?

Several factors can put a young person at risk for developing osteoporosis. They include:

  • Being white
  • Being female
  • Having irregular periods
  • Doing little or no exercise
  • Not getting enough calcium in your diet
  • Being below a normal weight
  • Having a family history of osteoporosis
  • Smoking
  • Drinking large amounts of alcohol

Osteoporosis can be prevented. There are some risk factors that you cannot change (such as your race and the fact that you’re female), but there are some you can! Eat a healthy diet, get some exercise, and don’t smoke!

How much calcium do I need?

Children and teenagers between the ages of 9 and 18 should aim for 1,300 milligrams per day, which is about 4 servings of high-calcium food or drinks. Each 8-ounce glass of milk (whether skim, 1%, 2%, or whole) and each cup of yogurt has about 300 milligrams of calcium. Adults 19 to 50 years of age should aim for 1,000 milligrams per day.

How do I know how much calcium is in the foods I eat?

For foods that contain calcium and have a nutrition facts label, there will be a % Daily Value (DV) listed next to the word calcium. To figure out how many milligrams of calcium a serving of food has, take the % DV, drop the % sign, and add a zero. Can you use the label to find out how much calcium is in one cup of skim milk? 30% means there is about 300mg of calcium per serving. The table below shows how much calcium is in some calcium-rich foods from different food groups.

What foods contain calcium?

You probably know that dairy foods such as milk and cheese are good sources of calcium, but do you know that tofu and beans contain calcium, too? Even if you don’t drink milk or eat cheese, you can get the calcium you need from other foods. See the list of high-calcium foods at the end of this guide.

What if I’m lactose intolerant?

If you are lactose intolerant and can’t drink milk, there are plenty of other ways to get enough calcium. These include eating foods high in calcium and drinking fortified soy milk, fortified juice, almond milk or lactose-free milk (the lactase enzyme that you are missing has been added into the milk). You may also take lactase enzyme tablets before eating dairy products to help digest the lactose sugar in the milk. Some people who are lactose intolerant can tolerate having small amounts of milk or other dairy products.

How can I get more calcium in my diet?

Here are some ideas for how you can get more calcium in your breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks:
Calcium tips

What if I just can’t get enough calcium in my diet?

It’s best to try to meet your calcium needs by having calcium-rich foods and drinks, but some teens find it hard to fit in 4 servings of high-calcium foods daily. If you don’t like dairy foods or calcium fortified juice or soymilk, you may need a calcium supplement. Calcium carbonate (for example, Viactiv® or a generic chewable) and calcium citrate (for example, Citracal®) are good choices. When choosing a supplement, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Most calcium supplements have between 200 and 500 milligrams of calcium. Remember, your goal is 1,300 milligrams of per day.
  • If you have to take more than one supplement per day, it is best to take them at different times of the day because your body can only absorb about 500 milligrams of calcium at a time.
  • Don’t count on getting all of your calcium from a multivitamin. Most basic multivitamin/mineral tablets have very little calcium in them.
  • Look for a calcium supplement that has vitamin D added. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium.
  • Avoid “oyster shell” or “natural source” calcium supplements. These may have lead or aluminum in them and are not recommended.
  • Know that your dietitian or health care provider will be able to support you with recommendations on what supplement will best suit your needs.
Food: Serving: Milligrams of Calcium:
Dairy Products:
Yogurt, low-fat1 cup338-448
Ricotta cheese, part-skim1/2 cup335
Milk (skim)1 cup299
Fortified soy and rice milks1 cup301
Milk (1%)1 cup305
Milk (whole)1 cup276
Ricotta cheese, whole1/2 cup255
Swiss cheese1 ounce224
Mozzarella cheese, part skim1 ounce222
Cheddar cheese1 ounce204
Muenster cheese1 ounce203
American cheese1 ounce296
Frozen yogurt1/2 cup103
Ice cream1/2 cup84
Pudding4 ounce countainer55

Protein Foods
:
Canned sardines (with bones)3 ounces325
Soybeans, cooked1 cup261
Canned salmon (with bones)3 ounces212
Nasoya Tofu Plus®, firm3 ounces201
Kidney beans, canned1/2 cup44
White beans, cooked1/2 cup80
Crab, canned3 ounces90
Clams, canned and drained3 ounces55
Almonds1 oz (24 nuts)76
Sesame seeds1 tablespoon88
Vegetables:
Collard greens, cooked1/2 cup134
Spinach, cooked1/2 cup122
Kale, cooked1/2 cup47
Broccoli, cooked1/2 cup31
Fruits:
Calcium-fortified orange juice1 cup349
Rhubarb, cooked1/2 cup174
Dried figs1/3 cup72
Orange166
Cereals and Bars:
Total Raisin Bran® Cereal1/2 cup500
Cream of Wheat® Cereal1 cup303
Basic 4® Cereal1 cup250
Kix® Cereal1 1/4 cup171
Luna® Bar1 bar425
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2013. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 26.