Here’s How Much Calcium You Need to Get Per Day

Over 40% of the U.S population does not get a sufficient daily amount of calcium. Calcium is critical to maintaining normal bone health and structure, but it also has other vital functions such as assisting with muscle function and nerve transmission.

Learn how much calcium you need each day, and how it can benefit your health.

Milk outside in a bottle and a glass
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Benefits of Calcium

Getting enough calcium can help your body in different ways, most notably by keeping the bones healthy and strong. In fact, 99% of the calcium in the body is stored in bones and teeth.

As your body is constantly breaking down and remodeling bone, calcium is needed to help rebuild the lost bone. Calcium also helps ensure that the size and strength of bone are maximized, also known as peak bone mass.

Although your genes primarily determine your peak bone mass, calcium can be an influencing factor. Most people don't reach peak bone mass until the ages of 25 to 30. From age 25 to 50, bone density tends to stay stable, but it usually begins to break down after 50.

A diet with adequate calcium consumption from childhood to adulthood can help ensure that peak bone mass reaches its greatest potential, which can delay bone loss when the bone starts to break down with age.

Calcium also plays an important role in other bodily functions. It's needed for the chemical processes cells use to carry out a variety of actions in the body, like releasing essential enzymes for digestion and enabling a muscle to contract.

What Happens If You Don’t Get Enough

Not getting enough calcium can be harmful to your health. Since calcium is required for so many vital functions, if you don't get enough of it in your diet, your body will take the amount it needs from bones. This can weaken your bones and lead to them being more susceptible to fractures and breaks.

A calcium deficiency can also lead to a condition known as hypocalcemia, which is when there is a lack of calcium in the blood. Hypocalcemia may lead to symptoms such as:

  • Muscle cramps
  • Convulsions
  • Tingling in the fingers
  • Poor appetite
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Seizures

In addition, research suggests that calcium deficiency may be associated with other conditions like:

The Role of Vitamin D

Vitamin D is important for calcium absorption. However, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, up to 90% of men and women are not receiving an adequate amount of vitamin D from their diet. Vitamin D and calcium supplementation may help to ensure that you're getting enough of these nutrients if you're deficient in them.

How Much Calcium You Need Per Day

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is the national system of nutrition recommendations. In 2020, The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) jointly released updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which set the following RDAs for calcium:

Children

  • Age 2 to 3 years: 700 milligrams (mg)
  • Age 4 to 8 years: 1,000 mg

Women

  • Age 9 to 18 years: 1,300 mg
  • Age 19 to 50 years: 1,000 mg
  • Over Age 51 years: 1,200 mg

Pregnant Women

  • Under Age 19: 1,300 mg
  • Age 19 and Over: 1,000 mg

Lactating Women

  • Under Age 19: 1,300 mg
  • Age 19 and Over: 1,000 mg

Men

  • Age 9 to 18 years: 1,300 mg
  • Age 19 to 70 years: 1,000 mg
  • Over Age 71 years: 1,200 mg

The Best Way to Get Calcium

The best way to get calcium is through natural sources, especially dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese. Natural sources such as these are absorbed into the body more efficiently than calcium supplements and contain other important nutrients like protein and vitamin A that the body needs.

Dietary Sources

There are a variety of foods that contain ample amounts of calcium. Below is a table of some of the best dietary sources.

 Food Serving size Milligrams (mg) of calcium per serving
Yogurt, plain, low fat 8 ounces 415
Orange juice, calcium-fortified 1 cup 349
Cheddar cheese 1.5 ounces 307
Milk, nonfat 1 cup 299
Tofu, processed with calcium 1/2 cup 200
Salmon, pink, canned, solids with bone 3 ounces   181
Hot cereal, calcium-fortified 1 cup 150
Almonds, whole  1/4 cup 100
Kale, chopped/cooked 1 cup 95
Sardines, canned with, bones 2 fish 92

Supplements

If you aren't getting an adequate amount of calcium from natural sources, calcium supplementation may be an option to try. There are four main types of calcium supplements:

  • Calcium carbonate
  • Calcium citrate
  • Calcium lactate
  • Calcium gluconate

Each type has varying amounts of elemental calcium, which is the actual amount of calcium that the body can absorb.

Supplement Amount of Elemental Calcium
Calcium carbonate 40%
Calcium citrate 21%
Calcium lactate 13%
Calcium gluconate 9%

Calcium carbonate is generally the best type available as it has the highest amount of elemental calcium. Calcium carbonate does need stomach acid for absorption, making it important to take it with food.

Calcium citrate has a lower amount of elemental calcium than calcium carbonate. However, it's easier for the body to absorb and does not need to be taken with food. Because of this, calcium citrate can be a good option for those with an absorption disorder or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Calcium lactate and calcium gluconate are two of the less common supplementation types due to their low amounts of elemental calcium. While both may be found in over-the-counter supplements, calcium gluconate is more specifically used in IV therapy to treat hyperkalemia, which is when there is an excess amount of potassium in the blood.

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Article Sources
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