Calcium rich foods & 5 health benefits

Calcium rich foods & 5 health benefits

Calcium isn’t just for bone health. It’s inevitable for life. Understand all about calcium rich foods, benefits, and roles.

What’s calcium?

calcium-bone health-nutrition-dairy products-mineral-vitamins

Carbohydrates, protein, and (Healthy) fats are not the only nutrients your body needs.

  • Calcium is a mineral that is necessary for life
  • About 99% of the calcium in our bodies is in our bones and teeth.
  • We lose it daily through our skin, nails, hair, sweat, urine, and feces.
  • Our bodies can’t produce its own calcium.

That’s why it’s vital to consume calcium from the food in your diet. When we don’t get it enough for our body needs, it is taken from our bones. This is alright once in a while, but if it occurs often, bones get weak and easier to break.

Functions of Calcium

Almost every cell in the body uses calcium in some way:

  • build healthy bones and teeth
  • enable our blood to clot
  • send a message through the nervous system
  • control your blood pressure
  • regulate muscles contract, including heartbeat

Calcium & bone health

Getting enough calcium in your diet is important to any age since we continue to build bone mass into the mid-20s, then we can lose bone mass without sufficient calcium in our diet.

If you don’t get it enough in the diet, your body will take it from your bones to ensure normal cell function.

  • Weakened bones: by loss of bone mass or osteoporosis (2nd most common cause of death in women)
  • Mood issues: Depression, anxiety, irritability
  • Sleep difficulty

How much calcium do you need?

The amount of calcium you need every day depends on your age and sex. However, get as much of your daily needs as possible from food and use only low-dose supplements to make up any shortfall (using high-dose supplements may increase your risk of kidney stones and heart disease).

Your body is better able to absorb calcium from the food than it can from supplements. So it’s important to consume calcium-rich foods in your diet, limit those that deplete calcium, and get enough vitamin D and K to help calcium do its job. 

Adult male : 1000 mg/day (70 & younger), 1,200 mg /day (71 & older)
Adult female: 1000 mg/day (50 & younger), 1,200 mg /day (71 & older)

A simple way to add it to many foods is to add a single tablespoon of nonfat powdered milk, which contains about 50 mg of it. It is easy to add a few tablespoons to almost any recipe.

Reading Food Labels

How much calcium are you getting? Read the nutrition facts panel for the daily value (DV). Food labels list calcium as a percentage of the DV. This amount is based on 1,000 mg per day. So “10% DV of calcium” equals 100 mg of calcium.

Source of calcium

Food is the best source of calcium. If you drink soymilk or another liquid that is fortified with calcium, be sure to shake the container well as it can settle to the bottom.

  • Dairy products – yogurt, cheese, milk
  • Vegetables – artichokes, asparagus, bok choy, leafy greens, fennel, green beans, cabbage, cauliflowers, kale, squash, garlic, broccoli, watercress
  • Fruits – fig, orange, apricot (dried), blackberries, black currants, prunes, kiwi
  • Fatty fish – sardines, salmon
  • Grains – oatmeal, amaranth
  • Seeds – sesame seeds
  • Legume – black beans, chickpeas, tofu (soy), kidney beans
  • Nuts – almond, brazil nuts, walnuts
  • Sea vegetables – kelp, arame
  • Calcium-fortified foods – soy milk, breakfast foods, cereals, snacks, bread, bottled water, and orange juice

Calcium & whole milk dairy products

  • Whole milk dairy products contain calcium, yet often high in saturated fat
    Saturated fat isn’t bad in moderation. However, low-fat and non-fat dairy products tend to contain lots of added sugars, which isn’t healthy. So go for whole milk! 
  • Milk can contain high levels of estrogen
    Because the cows are fed synthetic hormones and antibiotics, kept continuously pregnant, and milked over 300 days per year. The more pregnant the cow, the higher the hormones in the milk. Organic milk can still be high in natural hormones. Skim milk has a much lower level. 
  • Some people are lactose intolerant
    Lactose intolerant is not being able to digest lactose. The severity varies. I become a bit lactose intolerant after 30s. I can’t eat dairy products a lot at a time, but small amount and spread it out throughout the day is fine with me. Not to the point that I must have the pill for the allergy reaction. Symptoms: cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea. Lactose intolerance can also interfere with calcium absorption. 
  • Even vegan can get enough calcium from plants
    Vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, nuts, and seeds – there’re plenty of plant-based sources for calcium.

Tips for picking supplements

The best supplement is the one that meets your needs for convenience, cost, and availability. It’s important not to take too much.

  • Take (most) calcium supplements with food. Eating food produces stomach acid that helps your body absorb most calcium supplements. The one exception to the rule is calcium citrate, which can absorb well when taken with or without food.
  • Calcium supplement
    Calcium citrate is a highly absorbable calcium compound. Calcium ascorbate and calcium carbonate are not as easily absorbed as calcium citrate.
  • Calcium is absorbed best when taken in amounts of 500 – 600 mg or less. It’s for both foods and supplements. Try to get your calcium-rich foods and/or supplements in small amounts throughout the day, preferably with a meal. While it’s not recommended, taking your calcium all at once is better than not taking it at all.
  • Read the label carefully the amount of elemental calcium
    It is the actual amount of calcium in the supplement and how many doses or pills you must take. Pay close attention to the “amount per serving” and “serving size.”
  • Choose brand-name supplements 
    Look for labels with “purified” or the USP (United States Pharmacopeia) symbol: the USP has tested meeting its standards.
  • When switching to a new supplement, start with small
    When you switch to new calcium supplements, start with 200-300 mg every day for a week, and drink an extra 6-8 oz of water with it. Then gradually add more calcium each week.
  • Side effects from calcium supplements
    It might occur gas or constipation. If increasing fluids in your diet don’t solve the problem, try another type or brand of calcium. Try to see what works for you.
  • Talk with your doctor or pharmacist
    It’s safe to consult with experts since everyone has different situations.

How to increase calcium intake

< From dairy >

Dairy products are high in calcium, more than vegetables.

  • Substitute water with milk
    Instead of water, use milk to make a soup (creamy squash soup), sauce (bechamel), oatmeal, pancakes and smoothies.
  • Be creative with plain yogurt
    Frozen yogurt bites/bark, chia seeds yogurt parfait, tzatziki sauce, yogurt smoothies/popsicles, yogurt pancakes and waffles.
  • Eat cheese for dessert or snacks

< From non-dairy >

Some green vegetables and other foods contain calcium in smaller amounts than dairy products.

  • Add greens to your meals
    Add kale, beet greens, broccoli, cabbage, collard greens, dandelion greens, mustard greens, turnip greens to soups and stir-fries. 
  • Opt for dark green leafy salad
    Eat romain hearts, arugula, butter lettuce, mesclun, red leaf lettuce, watercress. Avoid iceberg. 
  • Add extra servings of vegetables
    Eat asparagus, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, green peas, okra. 
  • Make a sandwich or top salads with canned fish with bones
    Add pink salmon and sardines. 
  • Add beans/legumes in your diet
    They provide calcium and protein. Eat tofu, tempeh, black-eyed peas, black beans, edamame, and other dried beans. 
  • Oats for your breakfast
    They are filling and nutritious. 
  • Snack on nuts and seeds
    Eat nuts instead of candies. Add nuts and seeds to your meals. 
  • Choose whole-grain wheat bread
    Replace white bread with whole grain wheat braeds. 

< Other nutrients for bone health >

Calcium alone isn’t enough for healthy bones and osteoporosis prevention. Take magnesium and vitamin D together with calcium!


It helps your body absorb and retain calcium to help build and strengthen bones and prevent osteoporosis. Magnesium supports hundreds of chemical reactions in your body. About 60% of the magnesium is found in bone, while the rest is in muscles, soft tissues, and fluids, including blood.

Our body isn’t good at storing magnesium, it’s important to consume enough magnesium in your diet.

How much you need?

Adult male: 400-420 mg/day
Adult female: 310-320 mg/day (more during pregnancy)

How to include more in your diet

  • Magnesium source: Green leafy vegetables (spinach, Swiss chard), legumes (black beans), nuts (almond, cashews), seeds (pumpkin seeds), whole grains (quinoa), fish (halibut, mackerel, salmon), avocado, dark chocolate (70-85% cocoa). In general, foods containing dietary fiber provide magnesium. Magnesium is also added to some breakfast cereals and other fortified foods.
  • Reduce alcohol and sugar

Vitamin D

It promotes calcium absorption in the gut, regulates calcium in the blood to enable normal mineralization of bone and to prevent hypocalcemic tetany. It is also needed for bone growth and remodeling by osteoblasts and osteoclasts.

How much you need?

Some people need more vitamin D than others. 

Up to age 70: 600 IU (international unit)/day
Over 70: 800-1000 IU /day

How to include more in your diet

Get more sunshine since your skin makes vitamin D when you’re exposed to sunlight and stores it in fat for later use. How much vitamin D your skin can produce depends on the time of day, season, latitude, skin pigmentation, age, and other factors.

There are many reasons we don’t have enough vitamin D. We don’t spend enough time outside, and if we do, we often use sunscreen to prevent skin cancer. Sunscreen with an SPF as low as 8 reduces vitamin D production by 95 %. Additionally, our skin loses its ability to generate vitamin D as we age.

Spend at least 15 min outside in the sun daily and consume good vitamin D food sources in your diet. 

Vitamin D is found in very few foods: fatty fish like wild mackerel, salmon, and tuna. Cod liver oil, egg yolk, mushrooms, fortified foods (Vitamin D is added): dairy products, orange juice, soymilk, oatmeal, and cereals.

It is very difficult to get all the vitamin D you need from food alone. Most people must take vitamin D supplements to get enough to support bone health.

Tips for vitamin D supplements

If you don’t get enough vitamin D from sunlight and food, consider taking a supplement. 

  • Check vitamin D in other supplements, multivitamins, or medications you take. Many calcium supplements also contain vitamin D.
  • 2 types of vitamin D supplements: vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). Both types are good for bone health.
  • can be taken with or without food
  • can be taken the full amount at one time.
  • While your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium, you don’t need to take vitamin D at the same time.
  • Consult your doctor or pharmacist first.

Reading Food Labels

1/8 oz serving of milk usually has 25% of the daily value (DV) of vitamin D. The DV is based on a total daily intake of 400 IU of vitamin D. So, a serving of milk with 25% of the DV of vitamin D contains 100 IU.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is important to building strong, healthy bones. Both osteoblasts (bone-building cells) and osteoclasts (bone breaking down cells) are influenced by vitamin A. Despite its good effects, most researches link higher vitamin A levels with lower bone density and fractures.

How much you need?

Men age 19+: 3000 International Units (IUs)/day
Women age 19+: 2,330 IUs/day

Too much vitamin A will give you a headache and has been linked to bone loss. Pay particular attention to this possibility if you eat liver or take supplements.

How to include more in your diet

  • Meats and fatty fish liver – retinol. Vitamin A is fat-soluble and stored in livers.
  • Fruits – beta-carotene. Cantaloupe, mango, orange
  • Vegetables – beta-carotene. Carrots, kale, sweet potato, spinach
  • Dairy products – cheese, egg, fat-free milk,

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 has an effect on bone-building cells. Low levels of vitamin B12 are linked to a higher risk of osteoporosis.

People with higher risks of osteoporosis

  • Vegan – Vitamin B12 is found in meat and fish, making vegans, who don’t eat meat or dairy, at risk for bone loss.
  • People who have had a gastric bypass or have gastrointestinal disorders that cause poor absorption of fat lose the ability to absorb B12
  • People in their 80s and 90s may develop changes in the linings of the stomach that prevents them from absorbing iron and B12.

In these cases, doctors may give injections of B12, bypassing the digestive tract, so patients get the benefits of the vitamin.

How much you need?

It depends on your age, lifestyle, and specific situation.

People over age 14: 2.4 mcg /day

How to include more in your diet

  • Dairy products – milk, egg
  • Meats – beef, poultry
  • Seafood – fish, shellfish
  • Fortified breakfast cereal

Vitamin C

Vitamin C helps form healthy gums and bones. It is essential to the formation of collagen, the foundation that bone mineralization is built on. Vitamin C is water-soluble and the most common reason for low levels is poor intake. Some people with poor absorption will have lower levels of vitamin C: The elderly and smokers.

How much you need?

Adults: 65-90 mg /day
the upper limit is 2,000 mg /day

Though too much dietary vitamin won’t be harmful, it might cause diarrhea and nausea.

Vitamin C source:

  • Fruits – lemons, oranges, papaya, strawberries
  • Vegetables – broccoli, bell pepper, cauliflower, kale

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is a group of compounds such as vitamin K1 (leafy greens and some other vegetables) and K2 (meats, cheeses, and eggs, and synthesized by bacteria).

  • helps the body regulate calcium and form stronger bones
  • helps the blood clot, preventing excessive bleeding

How much you need?

Most people get enough vitamin K from their diets.

Adult male: 120 micrograms /day
Adult female: 90 micrograms/day

While vitamin K deficiencies are uncommon, you may be at higher risk if you:

  • Have a disease that affects absorption in the digestive tract, such as Crohn’s disease or active celiac disease
  • Are severely malnourished
  • Drink alcohol heavily
  • Take drugs that interfere with vitamin K absorption

How to include more in your diet

Unlike many other vitamins, vitamin K is not typically used as a dietary supplement.

  • Eggs
  • Legumes – soybeans  
  • Meat – liver
  • Strawberries  
  • Vegetables – spinach, asparagus, and broccoli  


Phosphorus is a mineral found in your bones. It works with calcium to build bones. Controlling phosphorus and calcium is very important for your health.

Normal working kidneys can remove extra phosphorus in your blood. When you have chronic kidney disease (CKD), your kidneys can’t remove phosphorus very well. Too much of it can absorb less calcium and be toxic:

  • causes body changes that pull calcium out of your bones, making them weak.
  • High phosphorus and calcium levels also lead to calcium deposits in blood vessels, lungs, eyes, and heart. Over time this can lead to increased risk of heart attack, stroke, or death.

Safe blood level of phosphorus: A normal phosphorus level is 2.5 to 4.5 mg/dL

How much you need?

Adults: 700 mg/day

How to include more in your diet

Protein-rich foods (organic phosphorus): meats, poultry, fish, nuts, beans, and dairy products. Phosphorus found in animal foods is absorbed more easily than phosphorus found in plant foods.

Additive or preservative in food (inorganic phosphorus): fast foods, prepared foods, canned and bottled drinks, enhanced meats, and most processed foods. Phosphorus from food additives is completely absorbed. Avoiding phosphorus additives can lower your intake of phosphorus.

Phosphorus additives are found on the list of ingredients on the nutrition facts label. Look for “PHOS” to find phosphorus additives in the food.

Phosphorus additives found in foods:

  • Dicalcium phosphate
  • Disodium phosphate
  • Monosodium phosphate
  • Phosphoric acid
  • Sodium hexameta-phosphate
  • Sodium tripolyphosphate
  • Tetrasodium pyrophosphate
  • Trisodium phosphate

High phosphorus foods to limit/avoid

  • Dairy products – cheese, milk, ice cream, pudding, yogurt,
  • Drinks – chocolate drinks, drinks made with milk, canned iced tea, Dr Pepper, beer/ale
  • Protein – oysters, sardines, organs like liver (beef, chicken), fish roe

Low phosphorus foods to enjoy

  • Dairy products – rice milk, almond milk, cottage cheese, vegan cheese, sherbet, popsicles
  • Drinks – water, coffee, tea, rice milk (unenriched), apple juice, cranberry juice, grape juice, lemonade, ginger ale, lemon lime soda, orange soda, root beer
  • Protein – chicken, turkey, fish, beef, veal, eggs, lamb, pork

Minimizing the calcium loss

Not just adding calcium-rich foods, you can also minimize the loss of calcium by reducing the foods and substances that deplete calcium stores in your body.

  • Alcohol
  • Caffein
  • Salt
  • Soft drinks
  • Smoking


Having more than 2 drinks per day is linked to higher chances of bone loss. Alcohol prevents calcium absorption and disrupts calcium balance in your body. No more than 7 drinks per week.


Caffeine tends to promote calcium excretion in urine. The amount lost can have a significant impact on the elderly with already low calcium levels.


Consuming too much salt could contribute to calcium loss and bone breakdown. Minimize fast foods, pre-packaged foods, and processed meats which are often high in sodium.

Soft drinks

To balance the phosphates in soft drinks, body draws calcium from your bones, which is then excreted. Coke, more than other carbonated soft drinks, leads to bone loss.


It doubles the chance of bone loss and fractures by keeping the hormone estrogen in your body from working well.

Other things you can do for bone health

Exercise – your bones get stronger if you do exercise: strength training, weight lifting, and weight-bearing exercises.

Weight-bearing exercises

  • Aerobics
  • Climbing stairs
  • Dancing
  • Running
  • Tai chi
  • Tennis and other racket sports
  • Walking
  • Water aerobics
  • Yoga

Conclusion: Consuming enough calcium is very important - especially for women. Get calcium from food with magnesium and vitamin D, go outside and do exercise for your healthy bone!

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