Calcium and Bone Health

One of the most important interventions in preventing bone loss is to ensure that your calcium intake is adequate.  The preferred method to meet your calcium needs is through food.  The following foods are good sources of calcium:

  • All dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yogurt
  • Some legumes such as soy, navy, pinto, garbanzo and red beans
  • Some green, leafy vegetables and broccoli
  • Calcium fortified orange juice, soy milk and tofu
  • Canned salmon with bones
  • Dried Figs and Almonds

Although all of these foods are rich in calcium, your body can best absorb the calcium from dairy foods.  In fact, your body can absorb 25-35% of the calcium in a cup of milk but only 5% from spinach.  Therefore, ounce-for-ounce dairy foods will provide you with the best sources of calcium.  Most dairy foods are also fortified with vitamin D, which is an important nutrient that helps to increase calcium absorption.  It has been found that without vitamin D less than 10% of dietary calcium may be absorbed.  (See Vitamin D and Bone Health for more information about how you can ensure that you are meeting your Vitamin D needs.)

Your calcium requirements change throughout the years.  The following is a list of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for calcium:

  • Ages 9-18: 1,300mg
  • Ages19-50: 1,000mg
  • Ages 50 and up: 1,200mg

Although you can use the above information as a general rule, calcium intakes do differ for some groups.  For example, it is recommended that postmenopausal women not taking estrogen increase their calcium intakes to 1,500mg per day, while postmenopausal women taking estrogen can take 1,000mg per day.  In order to meet your calcium needs through dairy products you would need to have 3-4 servings of dairy per day.  (Low-fat or fat-free dairy products are best to help maintain a healthy weight!)