Health Benefits, Supplements, Food and Recipes

By Published On: May 16, 202410 min readViews: 680 Comments on Health Benefits, Supplements, Food and Recipes

Mom wasn’t kidding when she said drinking milk would strengthen your bones. Calcium, a prevalent mineral found in dairy, is a vital nutrient for your overall health in the long term. Unfortunately, many people can easily have a calcium deficiency, depending on their dietary preferences and their lifestyles, which could increase the risk of injury and disease. According to the National Institutes of Health, 39% of Americans age four and older consume less than the Estimated Average Requirement (EAR) for calcium. In this case, a calcium supplement might be beneficial.

“Calcium is important for building and maintaining strong bones and teeth, as well as supporting proper muscle and nerve function,” says Raj Dasgupta, M.D., FACP, FCCP, FAASM, chief medical advisor for Fortune Recommends Health. “Having an adequate intake of calcium promotes optimal bone health, reducing the risk of fractures and osteoporosis, particularly as you age.”

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Along with its benefits to bone health, calcium is a vital mineral that benefits the body in a number of ways. Here’s why it’s important to get enough calcium in your diet—or through a supplement—and how much you need every day for optimal health.

What Is Calcium?

Calcium is a mineral that helps to keep your muscles, nerves and cells functioning properly. It’s also an essential nutrient for keeping your bones strong and healthy by increasing bone density, along with other essential minerals. Without it, bones can become brittle, which can result in easy breaking or an increased risk of injury.

The body cannot produce calcium, so getting enough of this mineral in your diet is essential. Your digestive system will absorb 15% to 20% of the calcium you take in. However, your body is able to absorb more calcium if you have a sufficient amount of vitamin D. That’s why these two nutrients go hand in hand. The Recommended Dietary Allowance of calcium for adults 19 and older is 1,000 milligrams a day and 15 micrograms (600 international units) of vitamin D a day.

Health Benefits of Calcium

Strengthens Your Bones and Teeth

It’s pretty surprising that 98% of your body’s calcium is stored in your bones. Because of this, calcium is a mineral that helps strengthen and maintain your bones and teeth. And as mentioned above, since the body can’t properly make calcium, it is important to get a sufficient amount through dietary and supplement sources in order to keep bones and teeth strong.

May Reduce Your Risk of Osteoporosis and Osteopenia

Given that calcium helps to strengthen bones, this, in return, helps decrease the risk of developing osteoporosis, a disease that weakens your bones. When your body does not get enough calcium from other sources, it relies on the stores of this mineral within your bones. This thins and weakens the bone, increasing your risk of this disease. Decreased calcium intake can also lead to osteopenia, also known as low bone mass or “pre-osteoporosis.”

May Decrease Your Risk of Fractures

If a person has low bone mass and is diagnosed with osteoporosis, they are at a higher risk of fractures and injury because of their weak bones. For example, if a fall results in an easy break, then it is likely the body is experiencing underlying bone weakness. Strong bones and proper calcium intake will help decrease the risk of this disease and injury.

May Support Your Heart Health

Bone health isn’t the only way this mineral benefits your body’s overall health; it can also help your heart. Some early research has shown that increased dietary calcium intake can help decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease.

May Help Improve Your Blood Clotting and Lower Your Blood Pressure

Proper calcium intake can help regulate your blood pressure levels because it helps your blood vessels tighten and relax as needed. Studies also show that low calcium intake could be associated with subtle coagulopathy, which means that your body’s ability to form blood clots could be impaired, causing excessive bleeding.

May Help Your Muscles Contract and Relax

Calcium helps to trigger muscle contractions by regulating proteins found in the muscle: actin and myosin. Calcium helps facilitate these two proteins needed to help muscles contract and keep moving. These proteins also help with muscle relaxation and decrease cramps, spasms and muscle weakness.

May Support Your Nerve Function

Calcium plays an important role in cell function, which is key for the body’s signaling pathways that benefit nerve function. Increased calcium levels benefit synaptic plasticity, which is when connections of neurons in the body are strengthened.

Food Sources of Calcium

Although most people associate calcium with milk, many other foods are rich in calcium, which you should incorporate into your diet. Here are a few examples of some of the more popular calcium-rich foods.

  • Dairy: Yogurt, cheese, kefir, and milk
  • Leafy greens: Spinach, kale, collards, broccoli, and bok choy
  • Nuts, seeds, and beans: Almonds, chia seeds, navy beans, sesame seeds, edamame, soybeans (including tofu)
  • Fatty fish: Salmon, sardines

Maggie Michalczyk, M.S., RDN, says some of her favorite calcium-rich foods to stock up at home include cottage cheese, almonds, broccoli and plain Greek yogurt. She enjoys making a Nut & Berry Parfait with almonds for breakfast or a snack and Balsamic & Parmesan Roasted Broccoli as a side with her dinners.

Because there is a good amount of calcium in the foods many eat daily (such as dairy products, leafy greens, nuts and beans), Michalczyk says it’s easy to get enough calcium through their diets. “However, people who are vegan or lactose intolerant should be aware that they may need to take a calcium supplement,” she adds.

How Much Calcium Do You Need?

So, how do you know if you’re getting enough calcium in a day? Here is the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), divided by age and sex.

 Age  Male Female
 0-6 months  200 mg  200 mg
 7-12 months 260 mg 260 mg
 1-3 years  700 mg  700 mg
 4-8 years  1,000 mg  1,000 mg
 9-18 years 1,300 mg 1,300 mg
19-50 years  1,000 mg  1,000 mg
 51-70 years  1,000 mg  1,200 mg
 >70+ years  1,200 mg  1,200 mg

During pregnancy and lactation, getting the same allotted amount within their age bracket is recommended. If you’re not sure you’re getting enough calcium, you can request a blood test with your doctor.

What to Look for in a Calcium Supplement

“Consider taking a calcium supplement if you have difficulty meeting daily calcium needs through diet alone or if advised by a healthcare professional due to a deficiency or specific health concerns,” says Dasgupta. “This includes those with lactose intolerance, vegan diets, or limited access to calcium-rich foods.”

There are two main types of calcium supplements you can take: calcium carbonate or calcium citrate. Calcium carbonate is an over-the-counter product with 200 milligrams or more of calcium in it, and it is recommended to be taken with meals. Calcium citrate is typically prescribed and contains far more calcium, typically between 600 and 1,000 milligrams. In some cases, it also contains vitamin D3 to ensure proper absorption. Other types, such as calcium gluconate, calcium lactate and calcium phosphate, have less calcium than the forms mentioned above. 

Knowing which supplement to take is a conversation with your medical provider. Remember that most dietary sources already have sufficient calcium; a single cup of whole milk contains 306 milligrams.

Potential Downsides and Precautions

While there are risks of not having enough calcium in the diet, there are also risks to consider if you’re taking too much calcium.

“Yes, it’s possible to take too much calcium,” says Michalczyk. “The upper limit is 2,500 milligrams daily from food and supplements. Hypercalcemia can happen from too much calcium and can range from mild to severe with symptoms like bone pain, muscle weakness, headaches and fatigue.”

Who Should Avoid Taking a Calcium Supplement?

“It’s important to speak with your doctor before starting any supplement, especially if you’re taking medications that may interact with calcium or have underlying health conditions,” says Dasgupta. “Excessive intake of calcium can increase the risk of kidney stones in some, and calcium carbonate supplements can lead to stomach upset and gas, especially when taken in large doses. So speak with your doctor before taking it.”

The Bottom Line

Calcium is a vital mineral for strengthening your bones and teeth, decreasing your risk of cardiovascular disease, lowering blood pressure, benefiting blood clotting, assisting with muscle contraction and relaxation, and even helping your nerve and brain function. The body cannot produce calcium on its own, so getting enough of it in a day is vital. Additionally, getting enough vitamin D is important for absorbing calcium in the gut. Calcium is stored in your bones, so if you’re not getting enough of it, the body will take out the stores, which results in weaker bones and increases your risk of injury and developing osteoporosis. Consult a health care professional if you’re not sure if you’re getting enough calcium and if you would benefit from taking a daily supplement.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it good to take calcium every day?

    Depending on how much calcium you take daily, a calcium supplement may be beneficial. However, you might already be getting enough calcium alone from your diet. The best way to know is to take a blood test with your doctor to see if a supplement is necessary.

  • What food is highest in calcium?

    Plain, low-fat yogurt is among the top foods with the highest amount of calcium, with 415 milligrams per cup. This equals around 32% of your daily value (DV). Other dairy products like milk and cheese are close behind, followed by sardines and soy products like soy milk, soybeans and tofu.

  • What does calcium do for the body?

    Calcium helps to strengthen bones and teeth, reducing your risk of developing osteoporosis and fractures. Calcium also helps with movement and relaxation of your muscles, benefits your circulatory system and helps lower your blood pressure, decreasing your risk of cardiovascular disease.

  • What happens if you don’t get enough calcium?

    “Insufficient calcium intake can lead to several health problems,” says Dasgupta. “Without enough calcium, you may be at risk for conditions like osteoporosis, where bones become weak and brittle, increasing the likelihood of fractures. Significantly low levels of calcium can lead to muscle cramps, spasms, or tingling sensations due to impaired muscle and nerve function.”

EatingWell uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
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  2. MedlinePlus. National Library of Medicine. Calcium and bones.

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  6. Cecilia Villa E, Mercedes L, Natalia M, Jose M B, Gabriela C. Mechanisms Involved in the Relationship between Low Calcium Intake and High Blood Pressure. Nutr. 2019;11(5):1112. doi:10.3390/nu11051112

  7. Andrea M, Andreas C, Chia-Ling P, Michael J J, Kristin S, Alison M A, Javier M R, Anand V, M Edip G, Steven M G, Christopher D A, Jonathan R, Joshua N G. Association Between Serum Calcium Level and Extent of Bleeding in Patients With Intracerebral Hemorrhage. JAMA Neurol. 2016;73(11):1285-1290. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2016.2252

  8. Takeyuki W. Mechanism of the calcium-regulation of muscle contraction — In pursuit of its structural basis. Proc Jpn Acad Ser B Phys Biol Sci. 2015;91(7):321-350. doi:10.2183/pjab.91.321

  9. Guanyu L, Madison R, Ayobami A, Suzanne S. The role of calcium in neuronal membrane tension and synaptic plasticity. Biochem Soc Trans. 2024;52(2):937-945. doi:10.1042/BST20231518

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  12. U.S. Department of Agriculture. FoodData Central. Milk, whole, 3.25% milkfat, with added vitamin D.

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