The Best and Worst Sources of Calcium
By Britni Vincent, RD, LD
October 1, 2020
We grow up hearing, “Drink your milk! You need more calcium.” Yes, we need sufficient calcium, but is milk the best source? In our opinion, no, and we’ll explain why. We’ll also share a list of calcium-rich foods to incorporate in your diet and what to look for in quality calcium supplements.
The Dairy Myth
The United States has one of the highest rates of dairy consumption, yet according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation about 54 million Americans have osteoporosis and low bone mass. Wait, that doesn’t make sense— if we eat so much dairy why do so many individuals have low bone mass? Well, recent research in the Journal of Osteoporosis International and research done at Harvard has debunked the idea that we need to consume dairy for strong bones. Many countries where very little dairy is consumed have some of the lowest rates of osteoporosis. In fact, we did just fine without dairy for most of human history.
Other Food Sources of Calcium
At Nutritional Weight & Wellness we always believe food should be the first source of nutrients in our diet. But if you’re dairy-free do not fret; you can get adequate calcium from vegetables like broccoli, leafy greens, sardines, canned salmon with the bones and nuts. Try our delicious Crunchy Broccoli Salad and Kale Salad to boost your calcium intake. If you’re a fan of sardines (in our experience you either love them or hate them) try the Sardine Salad with chickpeas.
Here’s a great list of calcium sources we recommend adding to your own favorite recipes or dishes.
- Sardines (canned with bones) 3 ounces provides 325 mg
- Kale (raw): 1 cup provides 90 mg
- Okra (raw): 1 cup provides 81 mg
- Bok choy: 1 cup provides 74 mg
- Almonds: 1 ounce provides 74 mg
- Broccoli (raw): 1 cup provides 42 mg
- Watercress: 1 cup provides 41 mg
- Collard greens (cooked): 1 cup provides 266 mg
- Salmon (canned with bones): 3 ounces provides 180 mg
You may be wondering about those commercials for “freshly-squeezed” orange juice fortified with calcium. Is that a good source? Not so much, and here’s why. The calcium found in orange juice is calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is the cheapest and least absorbable form of calcium available. You read that right – even though you’re drinking calcium in your juice, your body isn’t able to absorb that form. What a waste! Unfortunately, many supplements also contain this same form of calcium. Plus, orange juice is full of sugar. Although it’s natural sugar, drinking a 16-ounce glass of orange juice has just as much sugar as a can of pop.
Calcium Deficiency – Reasons to Supplement with Calcium
- Bone health
- Relaxation and sleep
- Muscle cramps
- Low dietary intake of calcium
- Poor digestive health and/or history of years of antacids (this can cause poor absorption of nutrients)
- Taking other nutrient-depleting prescription drugs
- Menopausal women
That leads us to who should take calcium? If you can relate to anything in the above-mentioned list, you may want to consider taking calcium.
Two specific groups should be supplementing for sure.
- Anyone concerned about bone health: we’ve all heard that calcium is one of the main minerals that makes up bone composition. Nearly 99% of the body’s calcium is stored in bones and teeth. If you’ve recently had a bone scan and results have shown osteopenia or osteoporosis, or if the disease runs in your family, it’s a good idea to take a calcium supplement to help prevent osteopenia and osteoporosis. To learn more, listen to a recent Dishing Up Nutrition show on Preventing Osteoporosis. Studies have shown that calcium supplementation has a positive effect on bone mineral density and reduces rate of fractures.
- Anyone suffering from poor sleep: Calcium is useful for sleep since it helps the brain use tryptophan, to manufacture melatonin, which and is our sleep-wake cycle hormone.
Calcium benefits us in other ways, too. For example, research shows that calcium helps prevent muscle cramps and spasms and helps protect against colon cancer, according to The Journal of the National Cancer Institute. If you want to learn even more about calcium, listen to our Dishing Up Nutrition podcast about Important Minerals.
Which Calcium Supplement is Right for You?
So if you’ve decided to supplement with calcium, what form is most absorbable? Here are our three top picks. See which one would work best for you. As an added bonus, all three are 15% off all October long, making it a bit easier to sample which one works for you.
- Activated Calcium is our go-to calcium supplement. It’s a unique product that’s formulated to be easily absorbed, effective and protective. This is getting a bit technical, but since the body can only absorb 500 milligrams of one source of calcium at one time, we created this supplement with four different forms of calcium, so that you can absorb 500 milligrams of calcium from each form. This is a great choice if you’re already taking vitamin D and magnesium.
- Activated Cal-Mag is a great option if you want to supplement with both calcium and magnesium. It also contains Vitamin D3 and phosphorus. Calcium, magnesium and Vitamin D work synergistically in the body and promote optimal absorption of one another. This supplement also contains phosphorus, which along with the calcium, vitamin D and magnesium, helps with bone mineral density, bone remodeling and muscle function.
- Activated Chewable Calcium is ideal for those who only need to add a small amount of calcium. There’s only 300 mg of calcium in 3 tablets. This is also good for those have a difficult time swallowing capsules and tablets. It has been formulated with calcium as MCHC, which is a highly absorbable form of calcium, along with a very small amount of magnesium and Vitamin D. The vitamin D and magnesium help with the absorption of calcium. This comes in a chocolate flavor.
- Key Osteo Plus is our comprehensive supplement developed for bone health (watch a short intro video here). It’s ideal for anyone who has osteopenia or osteoporosis. Not only does it contain calcium, Vitamin D and magnesium, but it contains other vitamins and minerals needed to support building bone. It contains enough vitamins and minerals that it doubles as a multivitamin. It comes in two convenient packets for the morning and evening.
How much calcium do you really need? The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for average needs is 1000 mg for men ages 18-70 and women ages 18-50, and 1200 mg for men ages 71 and above and women ages 51 and above.
Not sure what supplement or dosage is right for you? That’s where we come in. Our dietitians and nutritionists will recommend both food and supplements based on YOUR needs during a virtual one-on-one nutrition counseling appointment.
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