Maybe you decided to cut out dairy for digestive reasons or just for general health and you are considering taking a calcium supplement. Over the past few years I’ve followed the literature on this topic quite closely because I have plenty of clients, especially females and athletes who are worried about increased risk of osteoporosis, ask if they should be supplementing.
It is true that calcium intake is helpful in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis, which has become one of the most serious public health problems across the world. Your heart, muscles and nerves also need calcium to function properly. The amount of calcium adults need continues to be debated.
Research has shown that taking a calcium supplement might increase your risk of cardiovascular diseases death. Recent studies have also linked calcium supplements with an increased risk of colon polyps (small growths in the large intestine that can become cancerous) and kidney stones.
The recommended intake of calcium for women is 1,200-1,500 mg and for men closer to 700 mg daily.
It is possible to meet your calcium needs through your diet if you are mindful about it. You should be spreading your intake throughout the day, as your body cannot process more than 500 mg of calcium at a time. It is important to keep in mind that if a vegetable contains oxalic or phytic acid, then the calcium may be poorly absorbed because of the acid (i.e. spinach).
- Plain yogurt (6 ounces = 310 mg)
- Milk (1 cup = 300 mg)
- Cheese (1 ounce = ~200 mg)
- Kale (1 cup cooked = 94 mg)
- Broccoli (1 cup cooked = 62 mg)
- Collards (1 cup cooked= 220 mg)
- Bok Choy (1 cup cooked = 74 mg)
- Spinach (1/2 cup = 145 mg)
- Almonds (1/2 cup = 93 mg)
- Blackstrap molasses (1 tbsp = 80 mg)
- Sardines, canned with bones (4 sardines = 180 mg)
- Salmon, canned with bones (3 oz = 180 mg)
- Tofu with added calcium (1/2 cup = 260 mg)
- Tahini (2 tbsp = 120mg)
- Dried figs (5 figs = 135 mg)
- Edamame (1/2 cup cooked = 50 mg)
- Legumes & black beans (1 cup = 38 mg)
- Butternut squash (1 cup cooked = 84 mg)
- Oranges (1 medium = 60 mg)
- Orange juice fortified with calcium (1/2 cup = 250 mg)
- Fortified foods such as orange juice, breakfast cereal, and breads
Problems with supplements
- Constipation: Calcium carbonate is the most constipating, often found in fortified products such as plant based milks. Speak with your dietitian or doctor to learn about the different types of calcium supplements and which one is best for you.
- Acid rebound: Calcium carbonate may cause acid rebound where the stomach overcompensates for the high dose of calcium carbonate, which is alkaline, by churning out more acid.
- Hypercalcemia: This refers to above-normal calcium supplements in the blood.
- Drug interactions: Antibiotics, bisphosphonates and high blood pressure medications.
- Potential increased health risks
What should you do?
- Include weight bearing exercise to stimulate stronger bones
- Get enough Vitamin D (sun, some fatty fish, and dairy products) and K (green, leafy vegetables)
- Eat a well-balanced diet
- Talk to your doctor or other health professional before supplementing