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Boning Up: Why You Need Calcium

calcium chart
Although calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, most people are deficient in it because they consume only about half of what they need—500 to 700 mg a day. Too low an intake of calcium causes calcium reserves in the bones to be withdrawn, resulting in osteoporosis or osteopenia (weakening of the bones).

Should you take supplements or get your calcium from food? Supplementing is fine as long as you take a high-quality supplement. Make sure you know how much elemental calcium (the form of calcium best absorbed by your body) is in the supplement. However you get it, the important thing is to make sure you get about 1200 mg of calcium a day.

Bone Bank

The calcium in our bones acts like a bank the body can draw on when calcium stores are low. We’re most familiar with calcium’s importance in building strong teeth and bones—99 percent of the calcium in our body is found there. The remaining 1 percent is found in the blood and other tissues doing all kinds of things:

  • clotting blood
  • controlling blood pressure
  • producing enzymes and hormones that regulate digestion, energy, and fat metabolism
  • maintaining cells and connective tissues
  • helping to regulate the passage of nutrients through cell walls
  • preventing gum disease
  • maintaining proper nerve function
  • contracting muscles

Without calcium, your muscles don’t move. If we don’t have the right amount of calcium, our muscles can cramp or be unable to transmit the nerve impulses that are required for muscles to contract. If blood levels of calcium are too low, calcium is pulled from our bones to keep the amount we need in our blood. If the calcium is not replenished by your diet, over time osteoporosis can set in.

Good Sources of Calcium

Dairy products are the most commonly touted sources of calcium. But they are not necessarily the best sources: many people have lactose intolerance, many dairy products are high in saturated fat, and some studies have linked high dairy consumption to an increased risk of ovarian and prostate cancer. Other sources are broccoli, salmon, tofu and other soy products, almonds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, dried beans and legumes, figs, oranges, and molasses. Vitamin K, found in dark green leafy vegetables, helps to regulate calcium and plays an important role in bone formation.




Yogurt, plain, low fat

8 oz


Collards, frozen, boiled

1 cup


Skim milk

1 cup


Spinach, frozen, boiled

1 cup


Yogurt, plain, whole milk

8 oz


Cheese food, pasteurized American

1 oz


Cottage cheese, 1% milk fat

1 cup


Baked beans, canned

1 cup


Iceberg lettuce

1 head


Canned salmon

3 oz



1 cup


Trail mix (nuts, seeds, chocolate chips)

1 cup



1 oz (24 nuts)


Blackeye peas, boiled

1 cup


Green peas, boiled

1 cup


Courtesy of Harvard School of Public Health website.

© Gillian Scobie

Related Articles:
12 Ways To Boost Your Calcium
Muscle Fatigue May Be Caused by Calcium Loss

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