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How to Get More Calcium into a Diet

Updated on May 28, 2012

What is Calcium? Why do we Need Calcium?

Calcium isn't just about healthy bones and teeth. Did you know it affects? Calcium is a metallic, chemical element found in large quantities in the earth’s crust. It is also the most abundant mineral found in the human body. An adult male has about 1 to 1.5 kg of calcium in the body, and 99% of it is present in the bones. Calcium is vital for the optimal functioning of the entire body. It is common knowledge that our body needs calcium for development of bones and teeth. What is generally not well known is that, calcium is the cellular cement for bones; it is required for proper functioning of the muscles, transmission of nerve impulses and for clotting of the blood. There is more to calcium than strong bones and teeth.

Soy Milk
Soy Milk | Source

What Does Calcium Do for the Body?

  • It helps in the development of strong bones and teeth.
  • Calcium is needed for the proper functioning of the muscles in your body. An inadequate supply of calcium can result in muscle cramps.
  • Your heart muscles would also not have the strength to contract sufficiently. Calcium is essential for the process of coagulation of the blood.
  • Calcium is also required for the activation of enzymes, which are catalysts for all biochemical reactions in the body.
  • It also helps in the release of certain hormones like insulin.
  • Calcium helps bind your cells together.

Although you could take calcium supplements to bridge the gap, doctors and dietitians would encourage you to get your calcium from your food. When you get calcium from your diet, you would also be getting other trace elements, vitamins, minerals and fibre that is necessary for your body to function properly.

Foods Rich in Calcium - Kale
Foods Rich in Calcium - Kale | Source

Recommended Calcium Intake for all Age Groupsss

0-6 months
210 milligrams / day
7-12 months
270 milligrams / day
1-3 years
500 milligrams / day
4-8 years
800 milligrams / day
9-18 years
1,300 milligrams / day
19-50 years
1,000 milligrams / day
50+ years
1,200 milligrams / day

When to Increase Calcium Intake

The requirement of calcium could increase in certain conditions like pregnancy, lactation, postmenopausal women and aging adults.
Adolescents grow at a fast pace, which also means their bones are also growing rapidly before it stabilizes at adulthood. A diet, which is rich in calcium, helps develop strong bones and muscles.
Conditions like osteoporosis, lactose intolerance, following a vegan diet, or when a person is on certain medications, may warrant the use of calcium supplements. This needs to be determined by your doctor, taking into consideration your normal diet.

Foods High in Calcium

The need to get more calcium arises when people have some of the above-mentioned conditions, indicating the need to increase their intake of calcium. People with lactose intolerance or vegans who do not include dairy products, meat or fish into their diet, may need to find different ways of increasing their calcium intake. Dairy is not the only way to get your calcium, as it is often assumed. You could effectively get your calcium requirements from various other sources.

Non-dairy Sources of Calcium for Vegans

  • Vegetables like cooked turnip greens, kale, soya beans, okra, Chinese cabbage or bok choy, mustard greens, broccoli, collard greens, beet greens etc., have good amounts of calcium in them.
  • All kind of beans and legumes are rich in calcium.
  • Soymilk, and other soy products such as tofu and tempeh are rich sources of calcium.
  • Tahini, almond butter, etc., are excellent sources of calcium.
  • You could add calcium-fortified cereals, oatmeal and orange juice to increase your intake of calcium.
  • Almonds, figs, etc., are also rich in calcium.
  • Two tablespoons of Blackstrap molasses could give you about 400 mg of calcium. You just need to pick the right foods and achieve a good balance.

Reading the various product labels would help.

Other Foods Rich in Calcium

Milk, yogurt, cheese and other milk products are rich in calcium.
Canned salmon, sardines with edible bones are also rich in calcium.

Sources of Calcium
Sources of Calcium | Source

How to Get More Calcium?

Planning each meal with an eye towards adequate calcium intake, would help you have a balanced diet that is rich in calcium.

  • You could start your breakfast with a bowl of whole grain cereal and a glass of milk, or soymilk if you are a vegan or lactose intolerant. Alternately, you could have a bowl of oatmeal cooked in milk.
  • A glass of fortified orange juice or milk instead of soda or water with your food helps in getting more calcium at each meal.
  • Adding small quantities of cheese or almond butter or tahini to your sandwiches or crackers could add more calcium to your meal.
  • A sprinkling of sesame seeds over your dark greens or salads could give you that extra calcium.
  • Make dips and salad dressing with fat free yogurt. Add fresh herbs to give it some zing.
  • Add milk or milk powder to your soups, pancakes, and waffles to get more calcium.
  • A snack of unsalted almonds or figs is great for your health.
  • A cup of fat free yogurt or a slice of cheese along with your favourite fruit could be a healthy snack, providing you with enough calcium.
  • A cup of collard greens or turnip greens with a cup of brown rice, scrambled tempeh or tofu would make a calcium rich meal.
  • One serving of hummus or tahini on pita bread, one glass of fortified orange juice and 6 dry figs would provide your requirement of calcium at a meal.

What does Calcium Deficiency Do to the Body?

If your diet does not provide enough calcium for your body, or if your body is unable to absorb the calcium from your diet, it may start withdrawing the calcium from your bones for various body functions. If the depletion of calcium from the bones continues, it could lead to osteoporosis and various other complications arising out of it. Studies indicate that a higher intake of calcium leads to increased bone density and reduced risk of fracture.

Calcium Absorption

Did you know these facts - High fat diets, excess salt and sodas deplete Calcium from your body?

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How to Increase Calcium Absorption?

Vitamin D promotes the absorption of calcium. Without Vitamin D your body cannot produce enough of the hormone calcitriol, which is known as the active Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps in the absorption of calcium in the intestines.
You can get Vitamin D in three ways –

  • When the ultraviolet rays of the sun strike the skin, it triggers the synthesis of Vitamin D.
  • You could also get Vitamin D from your diet. Food sources such as cod liver oil, cooked swordfish, salmon, canned tuna, sardines canned in oil, liver, beef and fortified cereals, juices, yogurt and dairy products are rich in Vitamin D.
  • Supplements and fortified foods are another way to get your requirement of Vitamin D.

Factors that Inhibit Absorption of Calcium

  • One fact that you need to be aware of, is that a high protein diet over a prolonged period of time causes calcium to be excreted in urine.
  • Excess salt in your diet could also cause the same reaction. People with calcium deficiency need to reduce their level of protein and salt intake to increase their calcium absorption.
  • Drinking sodas regularly depletes the calcium in your bones. Your body tries to balance the phosphates in the sodas by drawing calcium from your bones. This is later excreted through urine.

Calcium Supplements

Calcium supplements are absorbed better if they are taken in dosages of 500 mg or less at a time. It would be more beneficial to spread it throughout the day. Calcium supplements are better absorbed when taken with food. Just taking calcium supplements alone would not be of great help. It is important to get a little exercise to strengthen your bones, no matter how old you are.

Calcium Side Effects

Before you go off to take calcium supplements, you need to consult with your doctor. Excess calcium in your diet could lead to high levels of calcium in the blood. This impairs kidney function. It also results in kidney stones, causing a lot of pain. Too much calcium also causes fatigue, depression, nausea, vomiting, constipation, etc. You could also develop irregular heartbeat and low blood pressure, which could be dangerous. You need to be cautious about taking any supplements on your own. Moderation and a balance in everything you do is important, and that includes your diet.


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    • sofs profile image

      sofs 5 years ago

      Bedbugsabscond, Milk isn't the only source of calcium..and I am glad that you do not have to worry so much about your calcium intake now. Tahini is awesome but it would be good to have a variety of sources to get your calcium and other micro-nutrients from. Take care and thanks for the comment.

    • Bedbugabscond profile image

      Melody Trent 5 years ago from United States

      Thanks for this hub! I have never been a person to drink milk, so I worry about getting enough calcium. I do love a lot of the other foods you mentioned! I will include them more! I do make my own humus, using tahini, so I am going to keep that up!

    • sofs profile image

      sofs 5 years ago

      Denise, there is enough controversy surrounding milk and soy products.. I guess people need to choose something that suits them well...but get the calcium they need.. Thanks for sharing that tidbit. I appreciate it very much. Have a lovely day.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Interesting and timely info. I know last winter I was tested for Vit D and discovered I was deficient in that. I took a supplement for awhile. One thing about soy-there are some medications that soy (and other foods) are contraindicated in taking. I cannot take soy because of my thyroid medicine. Just a tidbit here. :)

      Great hub.

    • sofs profile image

      sofs 5 years ago

      Just Ask Susan, I am glad that you do the most sensible thing. It is true that we can easily get our daily requirement of calcium from our food, if only we could choose wisely. Take care. Have a lovely day.

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I was told that I should be taking calcium supplements but I eat properly and get what I think is enough calcium in the food I eat every day.

      Great hub packed with so much information.

    • sofs profile image

      sofs 5 years ago

      Pegcole17, I'd rather have the veggies than suffer with osteoporosis :) Some years ago I had to take 1500mg of calcium.. supplements... now I am off that .. I try to get as much as I can from the food I eat... Take care and have a lovely day!

    • sofs profile image

      sofs 5 years ago

      mts1098LOL Thanks for learning :) Yogurt is great... I love the plain stuff... topped with fruit. Thanks for stopping by .. Have a great day!

    • sofs profile image

      sofs 5 years ago

      Ruby, I love the almonds too:) They make up most of my calcium requirements apart from the greens, figs and curds. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Have a lovely day!

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Hi Sofs, I had a feeling this would involve eating more veggies. Oh no! You are so right about the green leafy ones being necessary to proper calcium levels. And thanks for including the warning about calcium supplements causing kidney stones. I know about that first hand for sure. Great informative and interesting hub. Peg

    • profile image

      mts1098 5 years ago

      thank you for teaching me more on calcium and especially the veggies I did not know about...I am a cereal and Greek yogurt fan and now I know how much calcium to take daily...cheers and thanks

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 5 years ago from Southern Illinois

      Great hub. Calcium is so important. I am glad almonds are a good source because i love them and eat them daily. Thank you for sharing...

    • sofs profile image

      sofs 5 years ago

      Jennifer Silag, Thanks for stopping by, it is a good thing that most people have learned to reduce the salt in their diet. I do wish that people would realize that soft drinks and sodas do as much if not more harm. Much appreciated. Have a great day.

    • sofs profile image

      sofs 5 years ago

      Goodlady, Thanks for those kind words. It would be good to receive and heed the information that is available to us. Have a wonderful day!

    • sofs profile image

      sofs 5 years ago

      ASchwartz, I do agree that some people do not like the taste of milk...I am glad that you found this hub useful.. I appreciate your stopping by and leaving a comment. Have a lovely day.

    • sofs profile image

      sofs 5 years ago

      jimmythejock, I don't think many others realize it as well. We have been taught that calcium is important for the bones and that was all. It was really interesting doing the research. I am glad that you found it useful. Have a great day.

    • sofs profile image

      sofs 5 years ago

      teaches1234, Thank you for your kind words. I appreciate it very much. I do hope that it will serve as a good resource for those needing this information. Have a wonderful day.

    • sofs profile image

      sofs 5 years ago

      Breathing, Thanks for stopping by to leave a comment. Have a lovely day!

    • Jennifer Silagy profile image

      Jennifer Silagy 5 years ago from California

      Lots of great info! I learned some new things. I didn't realize that high salt intake can deplete calcium, and there are several sources of calcium that I was not aware of. Thanks!

    • GoodLady profile image

      Penelope Hart 5 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Voted up and interesting because this is a thoroughly informative important Hub.

      Better to take heed of your suggestions where to get enough calcium a day through a healthy diet than taking supplements, if possible.

    • ASchwartz profile image

      ASchwartz 5 years ago from Kentucky

      You can tell you did your research. This is a great article and I learned a few things. I'm glad to find a few new calcium sources besides just milk. I'm not lactose intolerant, but I just don't like the taste of milk, and never had. Thanks!

    • jimmythejock profile image

      James Paterson 5 years ago from Scotland

      Great article sofs, I always knew calcium was good for your bones but I didn't realise just how important it was to the rest of the body until I read this. Very informative, Thanks for sharing.....jimmy

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      This is great information on calcium in the diet. Your listing of calcium alternatives and also the harmful side effects from supplements are well researched. Great posting.

    • sofs profile image

      sofs 5 years ago

      Cardisa, What an awesome comment. :) I appreciate it very much. I will be more than happy if my reader is able to get all the information he/she wants, from this hub. Have a great day.

    • sofs profile image

      sofs 5 years ago

      Paul Kemp, Controversies will continue to rage.... Living in Asia I am yet to come across more than a handful of people with lactose intolerance... Cow's milk, curd, Ghee, butter are the basis of every meal we have..

      Studies show that milk from cows that are milked during pregnancy have much estrogen in them and are related to hormone dependent cancers.

      Skim milk has very little estrogen in it,as estrogen is fat soluble..

      Skim milk is much safer... and cows' milk is not all bad.. It is about the practices that are followed in each region.

      There is much controversy about soy products too.. there is an industry behind these which has its own agendas..

      Thanks for adding this discussion here.. It gives people a chance to make their own decisions. Have a great day.

    • sofs profile image

      sofs 5 years ago

      alipuckett, In India, where I live, almonds were always included in the diet of expecting mothers, in as many ways as possible. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Have a great day!

    • sofs profile image

      sofs 5 years ago

      Docmo, Thanks Doc, for being the first to read and comment on the hub.. I did have to do some extensive research before writing this hub.. I appreciate your comment.. and I want you to know that it means a lot to me. Have a lovely day.

    • breathing profile image

      Sajib 5 years ago from Bangladesh

      No question Calcium is a very important element of our body. Lack of this valuable element we face many trouble in our daily life. So, we should careful about this.

    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 5 years ago from Jamaica

      What an awesome hub! This is packed with all the information about calcium. I need not read anything else to know about this mineral.

    • Paul Kemp profile image

      Paul Kemp 5 years ago

      Milk and milk by-products are actually counterproductive, if you want more calcium. Studies have shown that the countries consuming the most milk have the highest rates of osteoporosis. I'm glad you listed the non-dairy sources of calcium first, but sorry to see you're spreading the false advertising of the dairy industry.

      Dieticians, especially in the USA, also fall in line and promote dairy product for all -- although most of the world's people are to some degree lactose intolerant. The dieticians parrot the Milk Board's propaganda because they receive funding from them. This doesn't change the facts.

      People of Asian, African, and Native American descent are particularly harmed by lactose intolerance. This is a clue for all of us. Cow's milk, for many other reasons, doesn't belong in the human diet.

    • alipuckett profile image

      alipuckett 5 years ago

      I had no idea that almonds were a good source of calcium. Awesome article!

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 5 years ago from UK

      This is awesome. Only recently there has been much concern among the medical community that there is a creeping epidemic of Calcium and Vit D deficiency. Your hub is not only timely but is chock full of information. Thanks for sharing sofs. Voted up and across.