Calcium is one of the most important and abundant minerals in the body. Besides providing the skeletal structure for bones and teeth, calcium plays a key role in many other day-to-day functions of the body. Calcium is important for the normal clotting of the blood, the conduction of nerve impulses, and the contraction and relaxation of muscles and blood vessels, as well as the regulation of body fluids, including hormones and enzymes.
In fact, calcium is so important that your body has a feedback system to maintain calcium at a constant level. Your body has a similar system for sodium and potassium, too. Whenever the blood and bodily functions need more calcium, it is pulled from your bones, where it is stored.
Your body can’t make its own calcium, so the only way to get enough is to eat calcium-rich foods. And if you don’t get enough calcium in your diet, you can end up with weakened bones, increasing the risk for fractures later in life.
The National Institutes of Health offers the following recommendations for daily calcium intake:
Infants up to age 6 months: 210 milligrams (mg)
Infants from age 6 months to 1 year: 270 mg
Children ages 1 to 3 years: 500 mg
Children ages 4 to 8 years: 800 mg
Children ages 9 to 18 years: 1,300 mg
Men and women ages 19 to 50: 1,000 mg
Men and women ages 51 and older: 1,200 mg
Dairy products, including milk, yogurt, and cheese, are good sources of calcium. A one-cup, 8-ounce serving of milk equals 300 mg of calcium. Other sources include calcium-fortified soy milk and orange juice, canned sardines, soybeans, dried figs, bok choy, broccoli, and collard and turnip greens.
“Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Calcium.” National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/. Accessed 2013.
“Calcium and Vitamin D: What You Need to Know.” National Osteoporosis Foundation. http://www.nof.org/articles/10. Accessed 2013.
“Newer Perspectives on Calcium Nutrition and Bone Quality.” R.P. Heaney and C.M. Weaver. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2005, vol. 24, no. 6, pp. 574S–81S. Abstract: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07315724.2005.10719506#.UiKPxDZJPTo. Accessed 2013.
“Nutrition for Everyone: Calcium and Bone Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 2011. www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/vitamins/calcium.html. Accessed 2013.
“Calcium and Vitamin D: Important At Every Age” NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center, January 2012. www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/bone/bone_health/nutrition/default.asp. Accessed 2013.