How Much Calcium Do You Really Need?

Eating a calcium-rich diet will not only improve your overall health, but will reduce your risk for bone fractures

Credit: Wellness Matters

Got milk? Dairy products are excellent sources of calcium, which keeps bones strong

You may be done growing, but eating a calcium-rich diet is no less important for your bone health

As we age, our bone mass starts to decline, putting the body at increased risk of fractures. That’s why it’s critical, right from childhood, to eat a diet rich in foods that support bone health, while avoiding foods that are bad for the bones. 

Sources of Calcium

Calcium is crucial to keeping bones healthy and strong. If you’re not getting enough calcium through your diet, your body will pull it from your bones, where it’s stored.

Good dietary sources of calcium include milk, cheese and yogurt as well as canned salmon and sardines, cooked soybeans, collards, bok choy, and dandelion and mustard greens. Products fortified with calcium–orange juice and rice beverages–are also good sources.

Health Canada’s recommended daily intake (RDI) for calcium is: 700 mg for children ages 1 to 3; 
1000 mg for children ages 4 to 8; 1300 mg for children and teens ages 9 to 18; 1000 mg per day for all adults ages 19 to 50 and men ages 51 to 70; and 1200 mg for women ages 51 to 70.

To absorb calcium and build bones, the 
body also needs adequate amounts of vitamin D. 
Health Canada recommends that people over two years of age consume 2 cups (500 mL) of milk or fortified soy beverages containing vitamin D every day. Health Canada’s RDI of vitamin D for children from birth to 12 months is 400 IU and 600 IU for people ages 1 to 70.

Note: Osteoporosis Canada recommends supplementation of 400 to 1000 IUs of vitamin D 
for people under age 50 (without osteoporosis) and recommends supplementation of 800 to 2000 IU daily for people over age 50. People with osteoporosis should consult with their physician regarding appropriate dosage.

Calcium Robbers

Just as some foods build bones, others can harm bone integrity. 
Excess salt can lead to calcium loss, weakening bones over time. Limit salt use and severely limit high-sodium processed meats, fast foods, and canned soup and vegetables.

Phosphoric acid, which is present in some soft drinks, can increase calcium excretion in the urine. Cola, in particular, is associated with low bone-mineral density in women. 
Caffeine is known to leach calcium from bones and also interferes with calcium absorption, so limit coffee.

Tip: Adding 2 Tbsp. (30 mL) of milk to one 8 oz. (237 mL) cup of coffee, or drinking a latté, helps compensate for this effect.

The Bottom Line on Bone Health

For strong bones, make sure you’re getting adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D in your diet, and limit salt, sodas and caffeine. If your diet doesn’t meet the daily requirements for calcium and vitamin D, consider taking a supplement. Talk to your doctor.

Originally published in Wellness Matters, Canada Wide Media’s quarterly newsletter on health and wellness.