Getting Enough Calcium

Why do I need calcium?

Calcium is important for the maintenance of healthy bones and teeth. Calcium needs are highest during times of rapid growth and after menopause in women.

How much calcium do I need?

To meet your calcium requirement, the following Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) are recommended per day:

  • Young Children (1 to 3 years old) — 500 mg
  • Children (4 to 8 years old) — 800 mg
  • Adolescents and Young Adults (9 to 18 years old) — 1,300
  • Adults (19 to 50 years old) — 1,000 mg
  • Pregnant and Nursing Women — 1,000 to 1,300 mg
  • Senior Adults (50+ years old) — 1,200 mg

What foods are good sources of calcium?

The best sources of calcium are dairy products such as milk, yogurt and cheese. Other excellent sources of calcium include calcium-fortified orange juice, cranberry juice or soymilk. Just 2 ounces of cheese or 1 cup of milk, yogurt or calcium-fortified beverage contains 300 milligrams of calcium, about 30 percent of your daily requirement.

Do I need a calcium supplement?

If you're not getting enough calcium from your diet, a daily calcium supplement is recommended.

How do I choose a calcium supplement?

Calcium supplements come in many forms. The most common forms you will see are calcium carbonate, calcium citrate and calcium phosphate. When you are choosing a calcium supplement, use the following guidelines:

  • Read the label. The label lists the amount of calcium in each tablet.
  • Look for the USP symbol. This mark on the label means that the product has met government standards for purity and quality.
  • Take only 500 to 600 mg of calcium at one time. If you take larger doses, your body's ability to absorb other nutrients may be reduced.
  • To improve absorption, don't take calcium supplements with other supplements that contain iron.
  • Take your calcium supplement with meals. Studies show that taking calcium carbonate with meals allows for better calcium absorption. Calcium citrate can be taken at any time. No matter what form you choose, taking your supplement at mealtime is an easy way to remember your daily calcium.
  • Avoid bone meal or dolomite calcium supplements. They may contain toxic substances such as lead.

Calcium supplements come in chewable, tablet and liquid forms. Consider cost, convenience and availability when selecting a supplement. Generic and store brands are as effective as brand name products and may cost less.

Do I need a calcium supplement with added vitamin D?

Vitamin D is necessary for the absorption of calcium, but it is not necessary that it be in the calcium supplement. Ask your dietitian or doctor if a calcium supplement with added vitamin D is right for you.


Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or health care provider. We encourage you to discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have.