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Great sources of calcium

Laura Harcourt

Written byLaura Harcourt

gareth_stables

Reviewed byGareth Stables

a selection of foods that contain calcium
Discover the power of calcium for your health! Learn optimal daily intake, top food sources and how to prevent deficiencies.

Summary

1Why is calcium important?

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body and plays several important roles in human health...

2How much calcium do I need?

Exactly how much calcium you need to stay healthy will change slightly during the course of your life...

3Best sources of calcium

Since your body can’t make calcium all by itself, it relies on you eating and drinking the right things to get enough of this crucial mineral to...

You’ve probably heard of calcium and know it has something to do with milk, bones and teeth. 

While this is correct, there’s so much more to this vital nutrient than both of these things. And since your body can’t make calcium itself, it’s essential that you get enough of it through other sources.1,2,3

Let’s take a look at just why you need to incorporate calcium into your day-to-day life and how to make sure you’re getting the right amount to optimise your health.

Why is calcium important?

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body and plays several important roles in human health.1 It’s best known for supporting healthy teeth and bones, and in fact, 98% of calcium in your body is stored in your bones.1 

Nevertheless, calcium is also important for other areas of your health and wellbeing, including regulating your muscle contractions and your heartbeat, and making sure your blood clots normally. This is essential to stop you from losing too much blood if you have an injury that causes blood loss.2

Despite being such a vital substance for human health, you’ve not yet evolved enough for your body to make it naturally. 

Instead, all of your calcium comes from the food and drink that you consume. And if you don’t get enough? Well, low calcium levels can cause your bones and teeth to become weak, and your general health to suffer.

It can also lead to a number of different health problems, including:

Rickets

Rickets is a bone development condition that affects children.4 Adults can experience a similar condition, which is called osteomalacia. It can be characterised by a range of symptoms including:
  • bone pain 
  • difficulty walking
  • skeletal deformities
  • dental problems
  • poor growth and development
  • more fractures and breaks than normal
In some cases, children with rickets may also have low levels of calcium in their blood, a condition called hypocalcaemia, which can cause symptoms like cramps, tingling and more.3
 

Hypocalcaemia

The calcium in your blood supports your nerves in working properly, makes your muscles work together to enable you to move around, helps your heart to work and helps to clot your blood if you’re bleeding.1 Hypocalcaemia occurs when there’s a low level of calcium in your blood that prevents it from being able to do these things effectively.2,5

Hypocalcemia can affect people of all ages. It’s also usually a side effect of another health issue. Symptoms can include:5,6
  • muscle cramps, particularly in your back and legs
  • dry, scaly skin
  • brittle nails
  • coarse hair
And while these symptoms may not seem overly serious, if they remain untreated they can lead to neurological problems such as memory problems, confusion, depression, and irritability.4,6 In severe cases, extremely low levels can cause seizures, abnormal heart rhythm and even heart failure.4
 

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a common and well-known condition that can cause your bones to weaken, putting them at greater risk of a fracture. It develops slowly over a number of years, and people with osteoporosis are more likely to break their wrist, hip or spinal bones than any other part of their body.7,8,9

Your bones are constantly breaking down and regenerating. As you get older, bone loss accelerates while replacement slows down.9,10,11 This can lead to weakening in the bones, making the occurrence of broken bones a real possibility.9,10

In fact, many people aren’t diagnosed with osteoporosis until after they’ve broken something.9 Anyone can be affected, but it’s been found that women are much more likely to develop osteoporosis than men, especially if they’re menopausal.9,10,12,13
 
Mixed race family enjoying a picnic at a table in a park

How much calcium do I need?

Exactly how much calcium you need to stay healthy will change slightly during the course of your life.

The easiest way to explain this is to break it down into life stages:11,14-19

Babies and young children

Babies under 1 Should get all their nutrition ,including calcium,
from breast milk or formula*
Babies aged 1–3 350mg per day.
Best from whole milk and full-fat dairy,
or unsweetened calcium-fortified soya milk,
oat milk or almond milk.
Don’t give rice milk to children under the age of 5
Children aged 4–6 450mg per day
*If you’re breast-feeding and have a well-balanced diet with plenty of calcium, you should be able to provide all of the calcium your baby needs too. If you choose not to breastfeed, infant formula is usually enriched with the right amount of calcium for your baby.20

Older children

A rapid increase in bone mass during teenage years means that older children’s need for calcium is high. And as boys are generally larger in size than girls, boys may need slightly more calcium in their diets to aid their physical development

Children aged 7–10 550mg per day
Girls aged 11–18 800mg per day
Boys aged 11–18 1000mg per day

Adults


Adults aged 19–75+ 700mg per day
Pregnant women 700mg per day, but should pay special attention to ensure they get enough calcium since low calcium intake during pregnancy is thought to contribute to the risk of low bone mass in the mother
Breastfeeding women 1250mg per day. This is because while breastfeeding, women should get an extra 550mg of calcium per day to meet their body’s demand for calcium due to milk production
Post-menopausal women 700mg per day, but should pay special attention to ensure they get plenty of calcium, as low calcium levels can contribute towards poor bone health

Best sources of calcium

Since your body can’t make calcium all by itself, it relies on you eating and drinking the right things to get enough of this crucial mineral to keep your body strong and healthy.1,2
Fortunately, there are lots of different sources of calcium, meaning that whatever your food preferences are, you should be able to get your recommended daily allowance!1,2
Dairy products. Bottles of milk, cottage cheese, yogurt, various cheese, mozzarella, butter on wooden table on meadow with grazing cows background

Dairy

Unsurprisingly, dairy is one of the most common sources of calcium for humans.1,2 There are lots of dairy options to choose from including: 
  • milk – calcium can be found in both cow’s or goat’s milk, where 200ml will provide around 240mg of calcium. This includes lactose-free cow’s milk22 
  • yoghurt – a pot of low-fat fruit yoghurt (150g) will provide around 210g of calcium, depending on which variety you pick21,22 
  • cheese – some cheeses are surprisingly rich in calcium. Fresh, soft cheeses like ricotta provide around 125 mg of calcium in a 200g serving. Meanwhile, hard cheeses like cheddar or parmesan pack a whopping 220mg of calcium into just a 30g serving22
Delicious tofu cheese, basil and soybeans on light gray table, closeup

Vegan non-dairy calcium sources

Don’t eat dairy? You could be forgiven for worrying about getting enough calcium, but fortunately, there are a range of vegan-friendly, non-dairy calcium sources too: 
  • vegan milk – many vegan milks contain calcium that’s equivalent to that found in animal milks, provided they’ve been fortified with calcium. Coconut milk, hemp milk, oat milk, rice milk and almond milk don’t naturally contain enough calcium to boost your daily intake. For example, non-enriched soy milk only contains 25g of calcium per 200ml, while the enriched variety contains 240mg22
  • dairy-free yoghurt – soya yoghurts can provide a plant-based alternative to regular yoghurt, with a 125g serving offering 150mg of calcium22
  • tofu – not only is tofu a great source of protein, but it also contains a decent amount of calcium for vegans. A 100g serving contains around 240mg of calcium22,23
For more plant-based inspo, visit our list of the best vegan calcium-rich sources.
Dried fruit nut and seed collection forming a background. Health food high in antioxidants, protein, omega 3. minerals, vitamins and anthocyanins. Flat lay.

Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds can make great, healthy snacks or accompaniments to your normal daily meals. Incorporating some of them can be a great way to increase your calcium levels:23,24,25,26 
  • chia seeds – just a single 28g serving of chia seeds sprinkled over yoghurt or added to a smoothie packs a 175mg punch of calcium 
  • almonds – almonds aren’t only absolutely delicious, but they’re thought to have the highest content of calcium amongst the nuts family with a 13g (around six whole ones) serving contains around 31mg of calcium
  • tahini – a thick paste made from ground sesame seeds, a 10mg serving will get you around 67mg of calcium
Salad leaves with edible flowers

Fruits and vegetables

Fruits and veggies contain a whole heap of different vitamins and minerals, with some including calcium.

You can help boost your levels by making sure you’re including the following items in a healthy, balanced diet:23,27
  • dried fruit – another great snack and one that contains a surprising amount of calcium. A 75g portion of dried figs will provide 180mg of calcium, while a 30g serving of dried apricots will pocket you 25mg of the mineral
  • leafy, green vegetables – you probably won’t be surprised to learn that leafy greens contain high levels of calcium, as well as lots of other nutritional goodness. For example, 85g of raw broccoli contains around 34mg of calcium, while 120g of raw cress will provide roughly 200mg 
  • rhubarb – rhubarb is full of calcium too. In fact, it’s so rich that just one 240mg serving will provide 87mg of the stuff! Combine a rhubarb crumble with chopped almonds and custard for a truly calcium-boosting dessert
Happy healthy young adult African American woman model talking pill holding glass of water standing in the kitchen at home. Morning supplements vitamins nutrition treatment concept.

Calcium supplements

While the best way to get enough calcium to optimise your health is through the nutrition that you get each day, some people may choose to take calcium supplements28 – particularly if they know that they’re unlikely to get enough of the mineral through the food and drink they consume.29 Examples can include if someone has a very strict diet, consumes limited foods or has a condition like Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID).30,31 

Calcium supplements are available in both tablet and liquid form, enabling you to find a variety that best suits your needs and preferences.29

We recommend that you always speak to your GP or a healthcare professional before starting to take any sort of supplement.

The final say

Calcium is an essential mineral for bone and overall health. While your body can’t make it alone, there are plenty of ways in which you can make sure that you get enough calcium, whatever age you are.1,2

Whether it’s through small changes to your diet, or supplementary medicine, understanding the importance of calcium and the role it plays in your health will help ensure that you get enough to optimise your health, now and in the future.

Disclaimer

While we strive for accuracy and balance, please be aware that this article may discuss products available for purchase through Holland & Barrett. Consult a healthcare professional before making any health-related decisions.
 

Sources

  1. National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements: Calcium [Internet]. [cited 2024 Mar 13] Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/
  2. NHS. Calcium [Internet]. [cited 2024 Mar 13]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/calcium/
  3. NIAMS. Calcium and Vitamin D: Important for Bone Health [Internet]. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. 2023 [cited 2024 May 9]. Available from: https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/calcium-and-vitamin-d-important-bone-health
  4. NHS. Symptoms, rickets and osteomalacia [Internet]. [cited 2024 Mar 13]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/rickets-and-osteomalacia/symptoms/
  5. Assessment of hypocalcaemia - Differential diagnosis of symptoms | BMJ Best Practice [Internet]. Bmj.com. 2024 [cited 2024 May 9]. Available from: https://bestpractice.bmj.com/topics/en-gb/160
  6. Cooper MS, Gittoes NJL. Diagnosis and management of hypocalcaemia. BMJ British medical journal [Internet]. 2008 Jun 5 [cited 2024 May 9];336(7656):1298–302. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2413335/
  7. Does Osteoporosis Run in Your Family? [Internet]. 2024 [cited 2024 May 9]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/genomics/disease/osteoporosis.htm
  8. Branch, NIAMS Science Communications and Outreach. ‘Osteoporosis’. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, 7 Apr. 2017, https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/osteoporosis
  9. NHS Choices. Overview - Osteoporosis [Internet]. 2024 [cited 2024 May 9]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/osteoporosis/
  10. Alswat, Khaled A. ‘Gender Disparities in Osteoporosis’. Journal of Clinical Medicine Research, vol. 9, no. 5, May 2017, pp. 382–87. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.14740/jocmr2970w.
  11. Calcium information sheet - Milton Keynes University Hospital [Internet]. Milton Keynes University Hospital. 2021 [cited 2024 May 9]. Available from: https://www.mkuh.nhs.uk/patient-information-leaflet/calcium-information-sheet
  12. Padilla CJ, Molina-Vicenty IL, María Frontera-Rodríguez, García-Ferré A, Bernabejoel Ponce Rivera, Cintrón-Vélez G, et al. Muscle and Bone Mass Loss in the Elderly Population: Advances in diagnosis and treatment. Journal of Biomedicine [Internet]. 2018 Jan 1 [cited 2024 May 9];3:40–9. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6261527/
  13. Ji MX, Yu Q. Primary osteoporosis in postmenopausal women. Chronic diseases and translational medicine [Internet]. 2015 Mar 1 [cited 2024 May 9];1(1):9–13. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5643776/
  14. Every Baby Matters Guidelines for good nutrition in Bradford and Airedale Diet after pregnancy and when breastfeeding [Internet]. Available from: https://www.bradford.gov.uk/media/1905/4-nutrition-guidelines-postnatal.pdf
  15. Public Health England: Government Dietary Recommendations [Internet]. [cited 2024 Mar 14]. Available from: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/618167/government_dietary_recommendations.pdf
  16. Ji, Meng-Xia, and Qi Yu. ‘Primary Osteoporosis in Postmenopausal Women’. Chronic Diseases and Translational Medicine, vol. 1, no. 1, Mar. 2015, pp. 9–13. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cdtm.2015.02.006.
  17. NHS Milton Keynes University Hospital: Following a milk-free diet while breastfeeding [Internet]. [cited 2024 Mar 14]. Available from: https://www.mkuh.nhs.uk/patient-information-leaflet/following-a-milk-free-diet-while-breastfeeding
  18. NHS Choices. Foods to avoid giving babies and young children [Internet]. 2024 [cited 2024 May 9]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/weaning-and-feeding/foods-to-avoid-giving-babies-and-young-children/
  19. Calcium [Internet]. Nih.gov. National Academies Press (US); 2024 [cited 2024 May 9]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK109827/
  20. Hicks PD, Hawthorne KM, Berseth CL, Marunycz JD, Heubi JE, Abrams SA. Total calcium absorption is similar from infant formulas with and without prebiotics and exceeds that in human milk-fed infants. BMC pediatrics [Internet]. 2012 Aug 7 [cited 2024 May 9];12(1). Available from: https://bmcpediatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2431-12-118
  21. Calcium information sheet - Milton Keynes University Hospital [Internet]. Milton Keynes University Hospital. 2021 [cited 2024 May 9]. Available from: https://www.mkuh.nhs.uk/patient-information-leaflet/calcium-information-sheet
  22. How to get more calcium in your diet How much Calcium does my child need? What is Calcium and what does it do? What happens if I don’t get enough calcium? [Internet]. Available from: https://www.wsh.nhs.uk/CMS-Documents/Patient-leaflets/NutritionandDieteticService/5801-1Howtogetenoughcalciuminyourdiet.pdf
  23. Calcium information sheet - Milton Keynes University Hospital [Internet]. Milton Keynes University Hospital. 2021 [cited 2024 May 9]. Available from: https://www.mkuh.nhs.uk/patient-information-leaflet/calcium-information-sheet
  24. Kulczyński, Bartosz, et al. ‘The Chemical Composition and Nutritional Value of Chia Seeds—Current State of Knowledge’. Nutrients, vol. 11, no. 6, May 2019, p. 1242. PubMed Central, https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11061242.
  25. Markiewicz-Żukowska R, Puścion-Jakubik A, Grabia M, Perkowski J, Nowakowski P, Bielecka J, et al. Nuts as a Dietary Enrichment with Selected Minerals—Content Assessment Supported by Chemometric Analysis. Foods [Internet]. 2022 Oct 11 [cited 2024 May 9];11(20):3152–2. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9601893/
  26. NHS Choices. Food for healthy bones [Internet]. 2024 [cited 2024 May 9]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/bone-health/food-for-strong-bones/
  27. Following a milk-free diet while breastfeeding - Milton Keynes University Hospital [Internet]. Milton Keynes University Hospital. 2023 [cited 2024 May 9]. Available from: https://www.mkuh.nhs.uk/patient-information-leaflet/following-a-milk-free-diet-while-breastfeeding
  28. Kilim, Holly P., and Harold Rosen. ‘Optimizing Calcium and Vitamin D Intake through Diet and Supplements’. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, vol. 85, no. 7, July 2018, pp. 543–50. www.ccjm.org, https://doi.org/10.3949/ccjm.85a.17106.
  29. Jacques J. NLOSS North London Obesity Surgery Service [Internet]. 2010. Available from: https://www.whittington.nhs.uk/document.ashx?id=1949
  30. Proctor KB, Rodrick E, Belcher S, Sharp WG, Kindler JM. Bone health in avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder: a narrative review. Journal of eating disorders [Internet]. 2023 Mar 22 [cited 2024 May 9];11(1). Available from: https://jeatdisord.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40337-023-00766-3#:~:text=Many%20key%20nutrients%20and%20food,9%2C%2021%2C%2022%5D
  31. F. Feillet, A. Bocquet, A. Briend, J.-P. Chouraqui, D. Darmaun, M.-L. Frelut, et al. Nutritional risks of ARFID (avoidant restrictive food intake disorders) and related behavior. Archives de pédiatrie [Internet]. 2019 Oct 1 [cited 2024 May 9];26(7):437–41. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0929693X19301216
 

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