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How Much Calcium Do We Need?

If you grew up in the United States then you will be familiar with the Got Milk campaigns of the 90s. While the genius behind the campaign cannot be denied, it is highly debatable if it truly got people to drink more milk. Statistically, milk consumption continued to decline from its peak in the 1940s at 43 gallons per person to half that in 2011, at just 19 gallons (per person). However, for most parents, the deal was sealed that the only way to ensure proper calcium was via the cow and so milk became a dinner table, staple. Many people still believe that drinking milk is the only way to ensure we get enough calcium for our bone health.

Today, we know that there are many sources of calcium, not just milk.

My paternal grandmother, Elsie was never a milk drinker and I rarely remember her encouraging us to drink milk. However, my aunt (her daughter) would always tell us to drink plenty of milk. Why? My grandma’s hands were gnarled and deformed with arthritis. I remember her knobbly hands working, somehow deftly at her quilting or crocheting and I was always amazed. It should seem that her fingers would be set in stone yet, they were adept at their duties. I imagine her hands ached, they had to.

Back then, discussion about osteoporosis (bone loss) was not common. For women, the risk for osteoporosis and arthritis is increased because bone loss accelerates (2 to 5% per year) for approximately 10 years after menopause. Of course, my grandmother would never understand the importance of calcium as it related to her bone health.

She also had kyphosis (curvature of the spine) that with advancing years left her hunched over and unable to lay flat. She spent much of the last years of her life laying on her couch. I remember that she would move gingerly upon rising but with movement, she became agile, again defying her deformity.

Truly, calcium is important.

As I age, I fear that I will have my grandma’s hands -already, I can see the knuckles of my hands defying me. Like my grandmother before me, I have never been a milk drinker (much to my aunt’s dismay), so it is encouraging to realize that calcium comes in many forms. What I have learned is that diet is essential to overall body health.

What is calcium?

Calcium is a mineral and is essential for life. It is the most abundant mineral in our body. However, we do not make calcium on our own and thus, we must rely on outside sources, such as food and supplements. Calcium, along with vitamin D, is necessary for building bones and keeping them strong. Calcium and vitamin D work in tandem as we need vitamin D to absorb the calcium from our digestive tracts. Calcium is important to many metabolic processes in our body, not just our skeletal system.

Why do we need calcium?

Beyond the role it plays in our bone health, calcium is important for cardiovascular and nervous system function. Again, we do not make calcium and must depend on outside sources of calcium. Once we attain the calcium it is stored in our bones, which act as a reservoir to release the calcium when it is needed for other bodily functions. Calcium may have other benefits such as helping to ward off diabetes, (high) blood pressure, and maybe even cancer.

How much calcium should we ingest?

For men and women, recommended daily calcium should be 1000 mg for those under 50, and then 1200 mg for those over 50. The daily calcium intake changes once you step foot outside the United States with a goal of 700 mg per day, as designated by the World Health Organization.

Our recommended daily calcium intake may be affected by the fact that studies show that Americans do not get enough calcium. Of course, all supplements should be discussed with your primary care provider or a certified dietician.

Can we get too much calcium?

You bet you can! While calcium is important for bones and supporting extra bodily function, too much calcium can cause significant problems in your body. Symptoms of too much calcium, which is called hypercalcemia, can include headaches, muscle twitching, constipation, and cardiovascular symptoms. Again, choosing the best ways to get calcium either via diet and/or supplements is best decided with your healthcare provider.

What if we don’t get enough calcium?

Often, people may not have any symptoms in the beginning stages of calcium deficiency. However, symptoms can progress to osteoporosis (less bone mass), osteopenia (loss of bone mineral density (BMD), and hypocalcemia (too little calcium). Some acute symptoms of hypocalcemia may include tingling in hands/feet or around the lips, neurological (confusion and hallucinations), and heart palpitations. Other chronic symptoms may include memory loss, weak and brittle nails, and bones that fracture more easily.

How do we test our calcium?

Your doctor will take a blood sample to check your blood calcium level. Sometimes your practitioner may also include checking your albumin level, which binds to the calcium and transports it through your blood.

How do we increase our Calcium?

If you and your health care provider or dietician determine that you are deficient in calcium, you can discuss with them ways to boost calcium. The easiest (and best) way to increase calcium is often through food(s) that are high(er) in calcium.

If it is determined that you need further supplementation then you can look to supplements for additional sources of calcium.

Foods High in Calcium

You can increase the calcium in your diet and get your calcium “naturally” through food, here are some rich in calcium ideas:

  • Collard greens: 8 ounces will get you approximately 360 mg of calcium.
  • Kale: 8 ounces will find you approximately 180 mg of calcium.
  • Figs: Two figs, dried, contain 65 mg of calcium. This is a great healthy snack idea.
  • Salmon (canned with bones): 3 ounces will nab you approximately 185 mg of calcium.
  • Cottage Cheese:  A 4-ounce serving will set you ahead 185 mg of calcium, however, Ricotta Cheese contains 335 mg of calcium.
  • Yogurt: A 6-ounce serving of yogurt boasts 260-310 mg of calcium, depending on the type and added fruit, etc.
  • Cereal (fortified): an 8-ounce portion can set you ahead 100-1000mg depending on the cereal.
Milk Alternatives Nutrition Chart via University Health News
Type of Milk, 1 cupVitamin D (g)Calcium (mg)Protein (g)Sugars (g)Carbohydrates (g)Fats (g)Calories
Dairy Milk 1% milkfat2325812122.5130
Pea Protein Milk644085-6Less than 14.580
Oat Milk3.635037165120
Soy Milk3300713480
Almond Milk2.5450101230
Flax Milk2.53008723.570
Pistachio Milk0200214570
Chart by University Health News

Do I need a calcium supplement?

This will be like a broken record, but you SHOULD discuss calcium supplementation with your doctor first. If you and your physician or dietician decide that calcium supplementation is recommended then look for good-quality calcium supplements. Here are two ideas:


Scientifically-formulated with four bioavailable nutrients to help build, maintain strong, and promote skeletal strength.

This comprehensive bone health formula offers Calzbone® and MenaQ7™ which are two patented ingredients that allow for optimal bone health support. 


This supplement is cost-effective and helps to reduce the risk of osteoporosis while improving calcium absorption. Clinically proven ESC® Organic Eggshell Calcium is one of the most absorbable forms of calcium available.

Featured Photo by Motoki Tonn on Unsplash

Editor’s note: This article contains affiliate links that are at no additional cost to you. E&I uses affiliate links as revenue to fund this blog and its operations of the business. Best, the E&I team.

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