Ohio State University Extension Fact sheet

Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet

Human Nutrition and Food Management

1787 Neil Avenue, Columbus, OH 43210

Calcium for Better Health


Updated and revised by Jackie Mosure and Christine Wisler Dietetic Interns, College of Human Ecology. September 2005.

This fact sheet is one in a series containing information to help you select foods that provide adequate daily amounts of vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recently released recommendations for the development of Dietary Guidelines that convey these nine major messages: 

What Is the Importance of Calcium?

One to two percent of your body weight is calcium. It is the most abundant mineral in the body. Ninety-nine percent of this calcium is in teeth and bones. The other 1 percent is found in blood, extra cellular fluids, and within cells of all tissues where it regulates key metabolic functions. Calcium is needed for growth and bone density, plus it keeps the heart pumping, muscles moving, and nerves communicating.

Why the Concern with Calcium in the Diet?

Low intake over a lifetime may lead to less dense bones or bone loss and increased risk of osteoporosis. The body stores calcium in bones till age 20, then through ages 20 to the early 30s, the body reaches its peak bone mass.

The USDA 1994 Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals (CSFII) showed a 25 percent higher intake of calcium in males than females ages nine and over. Males consumed 925 milligrams to the women’s weak 657 milligram intake. The adequate intake (AI) for males and females is 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day. Both groups are below the adequate recommendation.

What Are Sources of Calcium?

According to data from 1994 (released by the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion [CNPP], 1996), 73 percent of calcium came from milk products, 9 percent from fruits and vegetables, 5 percent from grains, and 12 percent from other sources.

Figure 1 shows where you can find calcium in MyPyramid. Table 1 shows a list of foods that contain calcium and the percent of calcium in each item.

Figure 1. Where to find calcium in MyPyramid.
Food pyramid.

Table 1. Percentage of Calcium in Some Selected Foods
Food Group Food Serving Size Mg of Calcium % of AI
Milk Yogurt, plain, nonfat 1 cup 450 45
Milk Tofu (w/calcium) ½ cup 435 43.5
Milk Yogurt, plain, low fat 1 cup 415 41.5
Milk Yogurt, fruit 1 cup 315 31.5
Milk Milk, fat free 1 cup 300 30
Milk Milk, 2% 1 cup 295 29.5
Milk Milk, whole 1 cup 290 29
Milk Chocolate milk, 1% 1 cup 285 28.5
Milk Chocolate milk, 2% 1 cup 285 28.5
Milk Swiss cheese 1 ounce 270 27
Milk Calcium fortified soy milk 8 ounces 250-300 25-30
Fruit Calcium fortified orange juice ¾ cup 225 22.5
  Cheese pizza 1/8 of pizza 220 22
Milk Cheddar cheese 1 ounce 205 20.5
Meat (Protein) Salmon, canned 3 ounces 205 20.5
Milk Mozzarella cheese ½ cup 185 18.5
  Macaroni and cheese ½ cup 180 18
Sweet Blackstrap molasses 1 tablespoon 170 17
Sweet Pudding ½ cup 150 15
Milk Tofu, raw, w/o calcium ½ cup 130 13
Milk Frozen yogurt ½ cup 105 10.5
Vegetable Turnip greens ½ cup 100 10
Meat (protein) Sardines 1 ounce 90 9
Meat (protein) Dried figs 3 90 9
Milk/Sweets Ice cream ½ cup 85 8.5
Milk Cottage cheese ½ cup 75 7.5
Vegetable Tempeh ½ cup 75 7.5
Vegetable Okra ½ cup 75 7.5
Milk Parmesan cheese 1 tablespoon 70 7
Milk Milk chocolate bar 1 ounce 70 7
Vegetable Mustard greens ½ cup 50 5
Fruit Orange 1 50 5
Vegetable Kale ½ cup 45 4.5
Vegetable Broccoli ½ cup 45 4.5
Meat (protein) Anchovies 5 40 4
Meat/beans Pinto beans ½ cup 40 4
Vegetable Rutabaga ½ cup 40 4
Milk Cream cheese 2 tablespoons 25 2.5
Vegetable Chinese cabbage, raw ½ cup 30 3
Meat (protein) Tuna, canned 3 ounces 10 1
Vegetable Lettuce greens ½ cup 10 1

Why Is Milk Intake So Low?

There are a variety of reasons why adults shy away from milk.

What Are the Facts?

Current research reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that incorporating three servings of dairy per day (i.e., three glasses of milk) in your diet will aid in weight loss. Calcium in milk promotes muscle growth and healthy bones. The study conducted had three groups — one on a low calcium diet, one on a high calcium diet (using a calcium supplement), and one on a high dairy diet. The group that drank more milk had a significantly larger weight loss than the other two groups. Another bene­fit of milk is it also contains protein for healthy bones; vitamins A, B12, and D; riboflavin, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and zinc.

What Are Alternatives to Drinking Milk?

If you are lactose intolerant, try using one of the lactose digesting products on the market (Lactaid, Dairy Ease). Fresh lactaid milk with extra calcium is also available at grocery stores.

Use Cheese

There are many low-fat (e.g., Kraft Light Naturals and “Philly” Light — a Neufchatel cheese) and nonfat (cottage, cream, Alpine Lace brand) cheeses. Eat cheese plain or combine it with other foods where it calls for traditional cheese.

For those who are lactose intolerant, harder, longer-aged cheeses have more whey removed, so they are lower in residual lactose.

Use Yogurt

Choose low-fat and non-fat versions, plain and flavored. Use as a substitute for mayonnaise in salad dressing. Replace sour cream with yogurt in dips, salads, desserts, and main dishes (e.g., stroganoff.) If a thicker product is desired, drain the yogurt by placing it in a coffee filter and strainer over a bowl in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours. Use frozen yogurt for dessert instead of ice cream.

Use Dry Milk

Use dry milk as an additive in cooking and baking.

Most recipes will tolerate the addition of 1/4 to 1/2 cup dry milk. Serving size portions may take 1/2 to 1 tablespoon.

Use Non-Dairy Sources

If you have a severe allergy to milk (usually to the milk proteins), get your calcium from non-dairy sources. Drink juices fortified with calcium and combine this with a daily dose of higher calcium vegetables (greens), legumes (dried beans, peas, and lentils), tofu, and fortified grain products (e.g., some breakfast cereals.) Use canned fish with bones (salmon, sardines, and mackerel).

When simmering bones to make soup stock, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of vinegar to the pot. This will dissolve a small amount of the calcium from the bones and leave it in the meat broth.

Use a Dietary Supplement

Calcium supplements are available, if needed. Make sure to get a supplement with vitamin D added. Vitamin D plays a key role in the absorption of calcium.

Make sure the calcium supplement will disintegrate properly by placing it in 6 ounces of vinegar for 30 minutes. If it disintegrates, your body will be able to absorb the calcium in the pill.

Labels and Sources of Calcium

Grocery stores label their products according to regulations set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A “high”, “rich in”, or “excellent” source of calcium is 20 percent or more of the RDA/AI (Recommended Daily Allowance/Adequate Intake). When a product is labeled “good”, “contains”, or “provides”, it has 10 percent of the RDA/AI for calcium. If a product is labeled “more”, “enriched”, “fortified”, or “added”, it has 10 percent or less of the RDA/AI. Table 1 shows the percentages of calcium in some food items.


Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, Life Sciences Research Office. Prepared for the Interagency Board for Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research, 1995. Third Report on Nutrition Monitoring in the United States: Volumes 1 and 2. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.

Standing committee on the Scientific Evaluation of Dietary Reference Intakes, Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. National Academy Press, 1997. Washington, D.C.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005. 6th Ed. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington D.C., January 2005.

Browne, M. B. 1993. Label Facts for Healthful Eating. Mazer Corporation, Dayton, Ohio.

www.mypyramid.gov/index.html. September 2005.

Zemel, M. B. 2004. Role of Calcium and Dairy Products in Energy Partitioning and Weight Management. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 74(5): 907S-911S.

Where to Find Calcium in MyPyramid

Food pyramid.

Reference to commercial products is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended or endorsement implied.

Click here for PDF version of this Fact Sheet.

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Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Agricultural Administration and Director, OSU Extension TDD No. 800-589-8292 (Ohio only) or 614-292-6181

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