Should You Be Taking a Calcium Supplement?

The best way to meet your calcium needs is to include calcium-rich foods like low-fat dairy products, beans, almonds and green leafy vegetables in your diet on a regular basis.  However, many Americans are not consuming enough calcium-rich foods to meet their estimated needs.  In fact, Studies have found that over 85% of girls ages 12-19 and nearly 80% of women over 20 years of age are not meeting their recommended calcium intakes.  While foods are the preferred calcium source, those who are not meeting the RDA with food should consider calcium supplements.  (See Calcium and Bone Health article to learn more about your calcium needs.) 

So what should you be looking for when choosing a supplement?

  • It is important to recognize that the body has difficulty absorbing more than 300-400 mg of calcium at one time.  Therefore, it is best to take supplements that have 500 mg of calcium or less per serving, and take each dose at separate times.  For example, you would want to take one dose in the morning and one in the evening. 

  • Look for a supplement that includes vitamin D, since vitamin D helps improve calcium absorption.  (Supplements that contain vitamin D3 are preferable to those that include vitamin D2.)

  • You may want to avoid supplements that come from unrefined oyster shell, dolomite or bone meal as they can contain lead or other toxic materials.

  • The amount of calcium you need from supplements, depends on how much calcium you get in the diet.  The chart below may be helpful to determine how much calcium is in many calcium-rich foods.  Nutrition labels can also help determine your calcium intakes. 

    • On nutrition labels, calcium is listed as a percentage.  This percentage is based on 1,000 mg per day.

  • Be aware that you can get too much calcium which could lead to calcification of bones and soft tissues and kidney stones.  The safe upper limit for calcium is set at 2,000-2,500 mg per day.


Calcium (mg)

Fortified oatmeal, 1 packet


Sardines, canned in oil, with edible bones, 3 oz.


Cheddar cheese, 1½ oz. shredded


Milk, nonfat, 1 cup


Milkshake, 1 cup


Yogurt, plain, low-fat, 1 cup


Soybeans, cooked, 1 cup


Tofu, firm, with calcium, ½ cup


Orange juice, fortified with calcium, 6 oz.

200-260 (varies)

Salmon, canned, with edible bones, 3 oz.


Pudding, instant, (chocolate, banana, etc.) made with 2% milk, ½ cup


Baked beans, 1 cup


Cottage cheese, 1% milk fat, 1 cup


Spaghetti, lasagna, 1 cup


Frozen yogurt, vanilla, soft-serve, ½ cup


Ready-to-eat cereal, fortified w/ calcium, 1 cup

100-1000 (varies)

Cheese pizza, 1 slice


Fortified waffles, 2


Turnip greens, boiled, ½ cup


Broccoli, raw, 1 cup


Ice cream, vanilla, ½ cup


Soy or rice milk, fortified with calcium, 1 cup

80-500 (varies)

This chart was adapted from the following website: