Nutrient to Know: Calcium

This important mineral is essential to both bone and muscle health. It also happens to be one of the nutrients most folks don’t get enough of.

This important mineral is essential to both bone and muscle health. It also happens to be one of the nutrients most folks don’t get enough of.

What is it?

Calcium is a mineral that’s plentiful in dairy products but is also found in eggs and some green veggies. Orange juice, soymilk and other foods are fortified with calcium for those who have trouble digesting dairy (see examples below).

Once in the body, calcium can be a little finicky. Your body can’t absorb large quantities at one time and it needs vitamin D around to be absorbed. It can also stand in the way of the absorption of minerals like iron and zinc. Your best bet is to spread out calcium intake throughout the day and get plenty of vitamin D.

Why is it good for you?

Calcium gives bones strength and promotes muscle contraction, nerve impulse transmission, blood clotting and hormone secretion.

If you don’t get enough calcium, the body pulls some out of your bones. This can eventually weaken them with long-term effects resulting in osteoporosis. Too much calcium can also be problematic, causing constipation, decreased absorbtion of iron and sometimes kidney stones.

Where can I find it?

The daily calcium recommendation for healthy adults is 1,000 milligrams per day (women and growing children need even more). You can find lots in these foods:

1 cup nonfat yogurt = 400 milligrams (40%)
1 cup fortified orange juice = 350 (35%)
1 cup milk = 300 milligrams (30%)
3 ounces canned salmon (with bones) = 215 milligrams (22%)
1 ounce cheddar cheese = 202 milligrams (20%)
½ cup frozen yogurt = 100 milligrams (10%)
1 cup cooked broccoli = 95 milligrams (10%)
1 ounce almonds = 75 milligrams (8%)
1 large egg yolk = 22 milligrams (2%)

A calcium supplement may also be a good idea to help meet needs, but there’s a right and wrong way to take them. Get the facts on smart supplementation:

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. See Dana's full bio »

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