When you think of important nutrients, one of the minerals that might quickly come to your mind is calcium.
Calcium is important for people of all ages and for many reasons beyond bone health.
What is calcium good for, and which foods are rich in calcium?
Read on for options for meat-eaters, vegetarians, and vegans alike.
What is calcium?
Calcium is a mineral found in the earth and in several foods. It is the fifth most abundant mineral in the Earth’s crust, making up around 3% of the crust. The human body contains calcium as well.
99% of the calcium in your body is stored in your bones, while smaller amounts are found in your blood, muscle, and other types of tissue.
You can get calcium from vitamins and supplements as well. The different types of calcium in supplements are calcium carbonate, calcium citrate, calcium gluconate, and calcium lactate.
10 calcium-rich foods
Many calcium-rich foods are dairy products, but there are plenty of non-dairy calcium choices suitable for vegans and those who avoid eating cow’s milk.
1) Dairy products
Cow’s milk and dairy products made from milk are some of the naturally richest sources of calcium. One cup of cow’s milk contains around 305 milligrams of calcium, or around 30% of the daily recommended amount.
Cheese and yogurt also contain calcium. Parmesan cheese is especially high in calcium, with 242 milligrams per ounce, while soft cheeses tend to be slightly lower in calcium.
Yogurt, cottage cheese, and other products made from cow’s milk are rich in calcium. Goat’s milk, another popular alternative to cow’s milk, provides even more calcium than cow’s milk.
If you suffer from lactose intolerance, some milk brands (like Lactaid) add the lactase enzyme directly to their products. The lactase enzyme helps your body break down lactose (the type of natural sugar in milk) and can reduce symptoms of lactose intolerance like gas, bloating, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
2) Dark green leafy vegetables
Dark leafy green vegetables are an excellent source of plant-based calcium. Collard greens are the richest source of calcium among leafy greens, with 175 milligrams per half-cup.
Other good calcium-rich foods are kale and spinach, which contain more available calcium when cooked compared to raw.
A half-cup of soybeans contains 230 milligrams of calcium. Soy-based foods are also rich in calcium, such as tofu (434 mg per ½ cup) and tempeh (184 mg per cup).
4) Canned fish
Canned fish with edible bones are very rich in calcium. Sardines are among the highest calcium fish, with 325 milligrams per 3-ounce serving.
Three ounces of regular salmon doesn’t provide any calcium, whereas canned salmon with bones provides 167 milligrams of calcium (15% of the daily value) per three-ounce serving.
When choosing canned fish, select those with the bones left in to benefit from the calcium since not all types include edible bones.
5) Non-dairy milk
Many foods are fortified with calcium, which means it’s added to a food that contains little to no calcium on its own. Non-dairy milks are examples of fortified calcium products. They can be an important source of calcium for vegans and those who avoid dairy products.
Almond milk, soy milk, oat milk, and many other non-dairy milks typically have enough calcium added to provide at least 20% of the daily value for calcium, making them all excellent sources of calcium.
One cup of a popular brand of fortified almond milk provides 35% of the daily value for calcium, which can quickly help you meet your daily requirement.
Almonds provide 246 milligrams of calcium per cup, as well as beneficial nutrients like magnesium, fiber, and vitamin E.
Almond butter also contains calcium, with one tablespoon providing 5% of the daily value. While that might not seem like much, it all adds up and can help you meet your calcium needs.
7) Orange juice fortified with calcium
Like non-dairy milk, orange juice isn’t naturally rich in calcium. Some types of orange juice are fortified with calcium to help meet calcium needs in people who might not otherwise consume much calcium.
Orange juice fortified with calcium might also have vitamin D added to help boost calcium absorption.
8) Sesame seeds
One ounce of sesame seeds provides 22% of the daily value for calcium, which means they are an excellent source of calcium. Add sesame seeds to foods like salads, smoothies, cereal, or on their own for a fiber- and calcium-rich snack.
Poppy seeds are another good source of calcium, with 127 milligrams of calcium per tablespoon.
Dried fruit isn’t typically a great source of calcium, but figs stand out above the rest and provide around 5% of the daily value for calcium per 40 grams. Figs are also a good source of fiber, which can help make you feel full and reduce hunger cravings.
Like all dried fruit, dried figs are more concentrated in sugar than fresh figs. If you’re watching your carbohydrate intake or have blood sugar problems like diabetes, try to be mindful of your portion size of dried fruit.
10) White beans
Another great source of plant-based protein, white beans are rich in calcium. One cup of white beans provides around 160 milligrams of calcium, which is about 16% of the daily value for most people.
What are the health benefits of calcium?
Below, we share 6 benefits of calcium.
Calcium helps promote strong bones, along with vitamin D. Eating enough calcium can help prevent osteoporosis, which is when bones become weakened and porous.
Calcium can only promote bone health if you have enough vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium.
Promotes strong teeth
Like bones, your teeth benefit from calcium. Your tooth’s enamel is the outermost part of the tooth and protects the tooth from cavities and erosion.
Calcium strengthens the enamel of your teeth, which is the strongest substance in your body (even stronger than bone!).
Aids in muscle contraction
Calcium is necessary for the normal contraction of muscles. Without enough calcium, you can develop symptoms like tetany (muscle spasms), numbness, tingling, and muscle cramps.
Helps reduce your chance of getting gallstones
Not eating enough calcium can increase your risk of getting a gallstone. One of the common types of gallstone is made of calcium oxalate. Calcium helps bind to oxalates in your stomach before reaching your kidneys, reducing the number of oxalates that could be turned into gallstones.
Promote healthy blood pressure levels
Calcium plays a role in blood pressure regulation, an important aspect of heart health. Part of the reason calcium is beneficial for blood pressure because it helps blood vessels contract and relax (similar to muscle contraction), which helps pump blood efficiently throughout your body.
Might help reduce your risk of certain types of cancer
Some studies show a correlation between calcium intake and a reduced risk of cancer, such as some types of colorectal cancer and breast cancer.
How much calcium do you need?
The recommended amount of calcium for men above 18 is 1,000 milligrams daily. This increases to 1,200 milligrams after age 70 to account for natural age-related bone weakening and osteoporosis risk.
Women above 18 need 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily, increasing to 1,200 milligrams daily after age 50. Calcium needs are unchanged for pregnancy and lactation in women over the age of 18 but are higher for pregnant females up to the age of 18 (1,300 milligrams daily).
It’s best to get calcium from whole foods to help avoid getting too much. It’s also a good idea to consult with your healthcare provider before starting any supplements.
Calcium is a vital nutrient for many aspects of your health, so it’s important to eat calcium-rich foods to help meet your nutrient needs. Some of the highest calcium foods are dairy products, but there are plenty of non-dairy sources as well that are rich in calcium, including soybeans, leafy green vegetables, nuts, and seeds.
You can also get calcium in supplements, but you should consult your healthcare provider to determine if you’re a candidate for calcium supplementation.