Calcium

Key Facts
  • Calcium is a mineral that gives strength to your bones.
  • It’s important to get enough calcium during your teen years so you’ll have strong bones now and when you’re older.
  • You may need a calcium supplement if you don’t get enough calcium in your diet.
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  • Young men's version of this guide

calcium

Calcium is a mineral that helps build strong 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 causes bones to become fragile and more likely to break. It develops slowly and is usually caused by a combination of genetics and too little calcium in the diet. 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
    • Being underweight
    • Having a family history of osteoporosis
    • Having irregular periods
    • Doing little or no weight-bearing exercise (ex: running or walking)
    • Not getting enough calcium in your diet
    • Smoking
    • Drinking large amounts of alcohol

Osteoporosis can be prevented. There are some risk factors that you cannot change (such as your race and your family history), but there are some you can! Eat a healthy diet, exercise on a regular basis, 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 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 have a nutrition facts label, the amount of calcium in that food is required to be on the label.  At the bottom of the label, you will see four nutrients: Vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium  Next to calcium will be a number indicating the amount (in mg) in a serving of that product.

What foods contain calcium?

Dairy foods such as milk, yogurt, and cheese are good sources of calcium. Other surprising sources of calcium are tofu and beans contain calcium. See the list of high-calcium foods at the end of this guide.

What if I’m lactose intolerant or have a milk allergy?

If you are lactose intolerant or have a milk allergy and can’t drink milk, there are plenty of other ways to get enough calcium. These include drinking fortified soy milk, fortified orange juice, almond milk or lactose-free milk (the lactase enzyme that you are missing has been added into the milk). If you are lactose intolerant, 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.  There are also certain cheeses, such as cheddar, that are naturally lactose-free.  If you have a milk allergy, it is important to talk with your health care provider about what you can eat or drink.

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:

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, calcium fortified juice or milk alternatives, 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-fat 1 cup 338-448
Ricotta cheese, part-skim 1/2 cup 337
Milk (skim) 1 cup 299
Fortified soy and rice milks 1 cup 283-299
Milk (1%) 1 cup 305
Milk (whole) 1 cup 276
Ricotta cheese, whole 1/2 cup 255
Swiss cheese 1 ounce 252
Mozzarella cheese, part skim 1 ounce 222
Cheddar cheese 1 ounce 201
Muenster cheese 1 ounce 203
American cheese 1 ounce 296
Frozen yogurt 1/2 cup 103
Ice cream 1/2 cup 84
Pudding 4 ounce container 54

Protein Foods
:
Soybeans, cooked 1 cup 261
Canned salmon 3 ounces 241
Nasoya Tofu Plus®, firm 3 ounces 200
Kidney beans, canned 1/2 cup 44
White beans, cooked 1/2 cup 81
Crab, canned 3 ounces 77
Clams, canned and drained 3 ounces 55
Almonds 1 oz (23 nuts) 76
Sesame seeds 1 tablespoon 88
Vegetables:
Collard greens, cooked 1/2 cup 134
Spinach, cooked 1/2 cup 122
Kale, cooked 1/2 cup 47
Broccoli, cooked 1/2 cup 31
Fruits:
Calcium-fortified orange juice 1 cup 349
Rhubarb, cooked 1/2 cup 174
Dried figs 1/3 cup 80
Orange 1 52
Cereals and Bars:
Raisin Bran® Cereal 1 cup 1000
Cream of Wheat® Hot Cereal 3 Tbps, dry 200
Cheerios® Cereal 1 cup 100
Kix® Cereal 1 1/4 cup 150
Nutrigrain® Cereal Bar 1 bar 130