Calcium is a vital nutrient that many of us lack in our diets. It is an essential building block for our bones and our teeth. We also need calcium for nerve signaling, heartbeat regulation, muscle function, and weight maintenance.
Almost every cell in our body uses this mineral in some way, and a deficiency can lead to anxiety, hypertension and tooth decay.
So, it is vital to include calcium-rich food in your diet along with other nutrients like vitamin D, vitamin K, and magnesium that help the body absorb and utilize calcium better.
Some of the common food items that are high in calcium are milk, leafy greens, almonds, okra, chia seeds, dried figs, etc.
Let’s learn more about calcium, foods rich in this nutrient and their health benefits.
Role of calcium in the body
Calcium is one of the most critical minerals for the human body. In addition to building bones and keeping them healthy calcium enables our blood to clot, our heart to beat and our muscles to contract.
In fact, we have more calcium in our body as compared to any other mineral. Two percent of an average adult’s weight is made up of calcium. Most of this is found in the bones and teeth, and the rest is stored in tissues and blood.
If you don’t have enough calcium in your diet, your bones can become brittle and weak. Calcium deficiency can also lead to hypertension, anxiety, and osteoporosis.
How much calcium do you need?
Calcium needs vary according to age. These are the average daily recommended amounts for calcium (1) –
- Birth to 6 months: 200 mg
- Infants 7 to 12 months: 260 mg
- Children 1 to 3 years: 700 mg
- Children 4 to 8 years: 1,000 mg
- Children 9 to 13 years: 1,300 mg
- Teens 14 to 18 years: 1,300 mg
- Adults: 19 to 50 years: 1,000 mg
- Adult men 51 to 70 years: 1,000 mg
- Adult women 51 to 70 years: 1,200 mg
- Adults 70 years and older: 1,200 mg
- Pregnant and breastfeeding teens: 1,300 mg
- Pregnant and breastfeeding adults: 1,000 mg
People with special calcium needs
- Formula-fed babies need more calcium than breastfed babies as the calcium in infant formula is not as easily absorbed as the calcium in breast milk.
- Young children need more calcium as their skeletal tissue is continually growing.
- Pregnant women need to take additional dietary calcium as a developing baby needs a lot of calcium.
- Our skeleton loses calcium as we age. Women lose calcium in their bones around the age of menopause. Men and women both lose bone mass as they age and they need more calcium in their diets.
Foods rich in calcium
Our body is better able to absorb calcium from food sources than it is from supplements. So, doctors recommend that we should get most of our calcium needs from food sources and use only low-dose supplements to make up for any shortfall.
Here are some of the best sources of calcium that we can easily incorporate in our diets.
Milk is one of the best and most well-known sources of calcium. One cup of milk has 276 to 352 mg of calcium depending if it is fat or nonfat (2).
According to the National Dairy Council milk is packed with many other nutrients like protein, potassium, phosphorus, vitamin D, vitamin B12, vitamin A, riboflavin and niacin.
Goat’s milk is also a rich source of calcium. It contains 237 mg calcium per cup.
In addition to calcium, cheese is also a good source of vitamin B and B complex. Vitamin B helps distribute calcium through the body.
Calcium and phosphorus in cheese are an excellent combination for dental health. These minerals help protect the strength of the teeth well into old age.
Not only is yogurt an excellent source of calcium (one cup can take care of 30 percent of RDI), but it also provides phosphorus, potassium, vitamin B12 and B2 (5).
Yogurt also contains an impressive amount of proteins, which help improve metabolism and are beneficial for weight control.
A low-fat yogurt is an excellent option as it is even higher in calcium content than regular yogurt. One cup of low-fat yogurt contains 45 percent of the daily requirement (6).
Greek yogurt, on the other hand, has lower calcium content, but it makes up for this with higher protein content.
Some types of yogurt also contain probiotics, which help improve digestive health.
One cup of canned sardines contains 569 mg of calcium, which is around 57 percent of the daily requirement (7). Sardines are also rich sources of vitamin D, which is a nutrient that helps absorb calcium in the body.
Sardines also contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which are known for their anti-inflammatory properties.
5. Canned salmon
A three-ounce serving of canned salmon with bones has 21 percent of the daily requirement for calcium (8). It is the bones in the canned salmon that contains most of the calcium, so you need to smash these up and consume with the salmon meat to gain all the benefits of calcium.
Canned salmon is also rich in protein, vitamin D, and omega-3 fats. This fish is loaded with nutrients and can reduce the risk of many diseases like heart disease, blood pressure, and stroke.
7. Leafy greens
Collard greens, spinach, turnip greens, kale, mustard greens, beet greens, bok choy are rich in calcium. One cup of collard greens (cooked) has 266 mg of calcium, which is around 25 percent of your daily needs (9).
One cup of chopped raw Kale contains 90.5 mg of calcium, which is 9 percent of the daily requirement (10).
Unfortunately, some of these greens like spinach also contain oxalates, which bind to calcium and reduce its absorption.
Of all the nuts, almonds are the best in their calcium content. One ounce of almonds can provide 8 percent of the daily requirement of calcium (11).
Almonds also contain healthy fats, protein, fiber, magnesium, copper, and vitamin E. They help reduce blood sugar and cholesterol levels. They also help reduce the risk of certain cancers.
9. Chia seeds
Just two tablespoons of chia seeds can provide 179 mg of calcium (12). Chia seeds are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants.
They also contain boron, which helps the body to metabolize calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium and thus promotes bones and muscles.
10. Dried figs
Figs have more calcium than any other dried fruits. One cup of dried figs (around eight or nine) provides 241 mg of calcium (13).
Figs are rich in fiber and antioxidants, and they also contain potassium and vitamin K. figs help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels. They are also used to treat constipation, indigestion, piles and sexual dysfunction.
11. Edamame and Tofu
Edamame is young soybeans that are encased in their pods. One cup of edamame contains almost 10 percent of the daily requirement for calcium.
Edamame is also rich in protein, fiber, antioxidants and vitamin K. it helps improve blood profile and reduce the risk of heart disease.
12. Sunflower seeds
One cup of sunflower seed kernels contains 109 mg of calcium (15). Sunflower seeds are also rich in vitamin E, copper and vitamin B1.
They also include manganese, selenium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin B6, folate, and niacin. The magnesium content in these seeds balances the effect of calcium in the body and regulates nerve and muscle health.
13. Sesame seeds
Just one tablespoon of sesame seeds can provide 88 mg of calcium (16). These tiny white seeds are also rich in magnesium, copper, vitamin B1, zinc, and dietary fiber.
Not only are sesame seeds good for the hair and skin, but they also help lower blood pressure, prevent diabetes and improve respiratory health.
According to a 2013 study, supplementation with sesame seeds can also improve signs and symptoms in patients with knee arthritis (17).
One cup of chopped frozen broccoli contains 87 mg of calcium (18). Broccoli is also rich in vitamin K. Consuming vitamin K improves bone health by enhancing calcium absorption and reducing urinary excretion of calcium.
Broccoli is also packed with antioxidants that provide many health benefits.
One cup of raw okra contains 82 mg of calcium (19). Okra also contains plentiful amounts of vitamin A and flavonoid anti-oxidants like beta-carotene, xanthin, and lutein.
Okra improves heart health, kills breast cancer cells, prevents liver disease and improves eye health.
Symptoms of calcium deficiency
When you don’t get enough calcium, you are at risk of developing a calcium deficiency. The signs and risk of calcium deficiency include –
- Increased chance for developing osteoporosis
- Bone fractures
- Tooth decay
- High blood pressure
- Muscle tension
- PMS symptoms
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Increased risk for diabetes
- Higher risk for certain types of cancers
- Gallstones or kidney stones
Calcium is an essential mineral that we can easily obtain through our diet. Milk, dairy products and green vegetables are some of the highest sources of calcium.
Almonds, sardines, salmon, and seeds like chia seeds and sesame seeds are also good sources of calcium. Having a diet rich in calcium helps protect from osteoporosis, tooth decay, hypertension, and inflammation.