Most people know that calcium is good for them. Even as small children we know we need to drink milk to make us grow big and strong. But how much calcium do we need exactly? Do I get enough and how much is too much? Read on to find out.
What Is Calcium?
Calcium is an essential mineral everyone needs. Our body cannot produce it, therefore, we must get it from the foods we eat or in some cases, from supplements.
Calcium has a number of functions within the body including stabilizing blood pressure and building strong bones and teeth. It also has an important role in neurotransmitter release and muscle contractions.
Most calcium is stored in your bones. It is important to get the right amount of calcium daily to keep your stores up, especially in children. As we age, our calcium stores naturally deplete. This is why it is important to get enough as a child to have the best chance of maintaining healthy levels throughout adulthood.
Low calcium levels can lead to conditions such as osteoporosis, osteopenia and calcium deficiency disease or hypocalcemia. These conditions can have nasty symptoms and lead to serious health issues.
Although studies have shown that most adults (especially women) are not meeting their dietary calcium needs. Getting enough calcium is important, however, too much calcium can also be a bad thing. It is recommended you don’t overdo it.
How Much Calcium Do I Need?
How much calcium you need depends entirely on your age and gender. In the case of children, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) tells us that both boys and girls need the same amount, which increases slightly with age from 200 mg per day for babies, all the way up to 1000 mg for teens. However, once into adulthood, men and women differ slightly.
As adults, we naturally need more calcium as we age and our bones thin more which leads to depletion of our calcium stores. Men don’t need to up their calcium intake until later in life, whereas women need to increase their intake by middle age.
Once a woman is in menopause, the decrease in the hormone estrogen means bones thin quicker. So it is important to get a higher intake of calcium to prevent developing calcium deficiency related conditions.
The U.S. government’s dietary guidelines suggests the following daily intake of calcium for adult men and women:
- Men, 19-30 years – 1,000 mg
- Women, 19-30 years – 1,000 mg
- Men, 31-50 years – 1,000 mg
- Women, 31-50 years – 1,000 mg
- Men, 51-70 years – 1,000 mg
- Women, 51-70 years – 1,200
- Men, 71 years and up – 1,200
- Women, 71 years and up – 1,200 mg
What Are The Best Sources Of Calcium?
The best way to ensure you are meeting your nutritional needs is by having a diet full of calcium rich foods. Whenever you are concerned about your nutrition, looking at changes in your diet is always the best place to start.
The top ten calcium rich foods include (source):
- Raw Milk – 1 cup: 300 mg (30% DV)
- Kale (cooked) – 1 cup: 245 mg (24% DV)
- Sardines (with bones) – 2 ounces: 217 mg (21% DV)
- Yogurt or Kefir – 6 oz: 300 mg (30% DV)
- Broccoli – 1 ½ cup cooked: 93 mg (9% DV)
- Watercress – 1 cup: 41 mg (4% DV)
- Cheese – 1 oz: 224 mg (22% DV)
- Bok Choy – 1 cup:74 mg (7% DV)
- Okra – 1 cup: 82 mg (8% DV)
- Almonds – 1 oz: 76 mg (8% DV)
Of course, if you are like many other Americans and unable to get all of your calcium needs solely from dietary sources, there are many calcium supplements on the market. The best ones to go for are those combined combined with vitamin D3 as this essential vitamin is necessary for our bodies to absorb calcium.