Ever Wondered What Calcium Does To Bone Health?

Janelle Cahill

by Janelle Cahill

While most of us know foods high in calcium are synonymous with strong bones, not many are aware that an optimal level of calcium per day is vital to our health. Understanding bone and joint health, is vital. By simply including foods high in calcium, you give your body, you guessed it, good bones!

man sitting and gripping his knee

To maintain normal calcium levels, you have to get the calcium your body needs from the foods you eat daily.

Classified as a mineral (a naturally occurring inorganic substance), calcium is critical to help you grow, to help you heal, and to help you move (1). Often, it is difficult to tell if you have calcium deficiency. As amazing as our body is, calcium cannot be produced naturally within the body – bummer!

To maintain normal calcium levels, you have to get the calcium your body needs from the foods you eat daily. If your body isn’t getting enough calcium per day, it will steal calcium from your bones to meet its needs. Given that bones contain 99.5% of the total calcium in your body (2), they become the default fallback for what is otherwise lacking.

The depletion of calcium in your bones can lead to some pretty awful outcomes like weakened bones, osteoporosis, and can also exacerbate mood problems & sleep difficulties (3). To make sure that you maintain normal calcium levels and to replenish what is taken from your bones, you need to get sufficient calcium from what you chow down on; you may also consider adding a calcium supplement to your daily health routine.

Just how much calcium does your body need, though? Is a glass of milk every other day enough, or should you toss in some other calcium-rich foods to pump up your daily quota? What if you are following a vegan diet – what other food sources outside of dairy products can get you the calcium your bones need?

There are a few factors that determine how much you need, such as whether you are a woman or a man, and whether you are over or under 50. Necessary from birth, it is especially important throughout your childhood. Below is a nifty chart that will help you determine just how much calcium you should be targeting per day (4):

text describing required calcium intake by gender and age

Calcium is listed as a percentage of the daily value (DV) on a food label.

Now that you know how much calcium your body needs, it is super important to know if you are getting enough on a daily basis. Knowledge is power, and knowing how to read a nutritional facts panel is a powerful skill (5) to determine if your daily glass of milk is meeting your specific needs.

Calcium is listed as a percentage of the daily value (DV) on a food label. The daily value is based on 1,000 mg of calcium per day. If your yogurt cup lists that it provides 30% DV of calcium per serving, this means it equals 300 mg of calcium. If your daily intake should be 1300 mg, it means you only have 1000 mg to go!

While it is well known that milk is definitely a great source of calcium (300mg per 1 cup) (6) (and – bonus! – pairs deliciously with a chocolate chip cookie), there are a ton of other sources of calcium that you may not know about, and many that are also compliant with a dairy-free diet.

Some great sources of calcium-rich foods (7) include:

  • Fortified almond, rice or soy beverage: 1 cup – 300mg
  • Fortified orange juice: 1 cup – 300mg
  • White, canned beans: 1 cup – 191mg
  • Dry roasted almonds: ½ cup – 186mg
  • Raw kale, chopped: 1 cup – 100mg
  • Sardines – canned in oil, with bones: 3 ounces – 325mg

When it comes to getting these foods into your diet, get creative in the kitchen. A bowl of plain kale is as exciting as a pair of white socks! Instead, add some kale and beans to a hearty stew (8), or add yogurt to your pancake (9) mix. Similarly, pairing sliced cheddar cheese with a crisp granny smith apple (10) makes for a crunchy, calcium-rich snack. The trick is in making calcium flavourful and fun, instead of a requirement on a to-do list.

Depending on your dietary habits, it is likely that you get what you need through your diet. However, if you are at a higher risk for developing osteoporosis (11), or have a higher-than-your-doctor-would-like tendency for caffeine, alcohol, sodium or red meat in your diet, all of which can contribute to bone loss, you may consider adding a calcium supplement to your daily routine. Have a chat with your health care provider about the kind of calcium supplement that would be suitable for your specific needs. When it comes to a supplement, you will want to consider the type of calcium, the dose (mg) per serving, and possible side effects (12).

Meanwhile, when the gang heads out to the ice cream parlor for a banana split or a strawberry sundae, you can feel happy knowing that your bones are getting a little treat too – approximately 128mg of calcium!