What is calcium and how does the body use it?

Calcium is a soft, gray chemical element (symbol Ca) that makes up a large portion of the human body. We use calcium to build strong bones and teeth, contract muscles, regulate hormones, and control blood pressure.

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How much calcium do I need in my diet?

Age Recommended
0-6 months 200 mg
7-12 months 260 mg
1-3 years 700 mg
4-8 years 1,000 mg
9-18 years 1,300 mg‡
19-50 years 1,000 mg
51-70 years 1,000 mg (male)
1,200 mg (female)
71+ years 1,200 mg
Source: National Institutes of Health1
† Adequate intake
‡ Recommended daily value on new Nutrition Facts labels

Since the body uses vitamin D to absorb calcium, meeting your vitamin D needs is also important.

Are you getting enough calcium? Keep a food diary and find out. Track calcium!

What are good sources of calcium?

While most people know that dairy is an excellent source of calcium, they are often surprised to hear that tofu, soybeans, and dark leafy greens (e.g., dandelion greens) are also good sources.

Food Qty Calcium (mg)
Tofu (Made w/ Calcium Sulfate) ½ cup 860
Skim Milk 1 cup 500
Plain Skim Milk Yogurt 1 cup 490
Soy MilkFortified 1 cup 450
Shredded Cheddar Cheese ¼ cup 200
Edamame 1 cup 120
Dandelion Greens 1 cup 100

What are the effects of calcium deficiency?

Low levels of calcium in the bloodstream can cause the body to break down bone to release additional calcium. This process causes bone density to decrease, which weakens the bones and increases the risk of developing osteomalacia and osteoporosis. Groups most at risk for calcium deficiency are lactose-intolerant individuals, post-menopausal women, vegans, athletes, and individuals with some thyroid conditions.

What is calcium toxicity?

Calcium toxicity occurs when blood calcium levels are abnormally high. Toxicity is rare since our intestines limit the body's absorption of calcium, but it is possible when a person consumes a large of amount of calcium and vitamin D together, or when a person receives calcium through an IV. Too much calcium in the diet can lead to constipation, stomach discomfort, and kidney stones.

Age Upper Limit
0-6 months 1,000 mg
7-12 months 1,500 mg
1-8 years 2,500 mg
9-18 years 3,000 mg
19-50 years 2,500 mg
51+ years 2,000 mg
Source: National Institutes of Health1

Additional Resources

  1. Calcium Fact Sheet. National Institutes of Health.

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