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    Do You Really Need Calcium Supplements?

    woman choosing vitamins

    “How much extra calcium should I be taking?”

    It’s a question I get several times a day from women of all ages, but mostly from those in menopause or nearing menopause.

    The answer I almost always give is “less than you think.” And for most women, probably none.

    It’s not that I don’t think calcium is important.

    It is. Adequate calcium and vitamin D are critical for building and maintaining a healthy bone mass.

    But most women, with the exception of those who can’t tolerate dairy, are already getting a significant amount of calcium in their diet. So much so that taking calcium supplements adds little to their overall health.

    In fact, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently recommended against routine calcium and vitamin D supplements for healthy postmenopausal women.

    What harm can a little extra calcium do me? 


    More than you might think. Too much calcium can lead to:

    • Kidney stones
    • Constipation (If constipation is a problem for you, try taking calcium with magnesium)
    • Trouble absorbing iron and zinc

    You may also have heard that taking calcium supplements can lead to heart disease. It’s still an open question. Some studies suggest up to a 20% increase in heart disease in men and women who take calcium supplements, but other studies do not find this risk, or find it only in men and not women.

    My Recommendation

    Unless you’re at increased risk for a fracture (you can calculate your fracture risk here), forgo the supplements and get your calcium from food and drinks. If you don’t eat dairy, look to non-dairy calcium sources. If you can’t get your entire recommended daily allowance (RDA) of it from food, only take as much calcium supplementation as you need to make up the difference between dietary sources and the RDA for your age group.

    Food Milligrams (mg) calcium per serving
    Yogurt, plain, low fat, 8 ounces 415
    Mozzarella, part skim, 1.5 ounces 333
    Sardines, canned in oil, with bones, 3 ounces 325
    Yogurt, fruit, low fat, 8 ounces 313–384
    Cheddar cheese, 1.5 ounces 307
    Milk, nonfat, 8 ounces** 299
    Soymilk, calcium-fortified, 8 ounces 299
    Milk, reduced-fat (2% milk fat), 8 ounces 293
    Milk, buttermilk, lowfat, 8 ounces 284
    Milk, whole (3.25% milk fat), 8 ounces 276
    Orange juice, calcium-fortified, 6 ounces 261
    Tofu, firm, made with calcium sulfate, ½ cup*** 253
    Salmon, pink, canned, solids with bone, 3 ounces 181
    Cottage cheese, 1% milk fat, 1 cup 138
    Tofu, soft, made with calcium sulfate, ½ cup*** 138
    Ready-to-eat cereal, calcium-fortified, 1 cup 100–1,000
    Frozen yogurt, vanilla, soft serve, ½ cup 103
    Turnip greens, fresh, boiled, ½ cup 99
    Kale, raw, chopped, 1 cup 100
    Kale, fresh, cooked, 1 cup 94
    Ice cream, vanilla, ½ cup 84
    Chinese cabbage, bok choi, raw, shredded, 1 cup 74
    Bread, white, 1 slice 73
    Pudding, chocolate, ready to eat, refrigerated, 4 ounces 55
    Tortilla, corn, ready-to-bake/fry, one 6″ diameter 46
    Tortilla, flour, ready-to-bake/fry, one 6″ diameter 32
    Sour cream, reduced fat, cultured, 2 tablespoons 31
    Bread, whole-wheat, 1 slice 30
    Broccoli, raw, ½ cup 21
    Cheese, cream, regular, 1 tablespoon 14

    Chart from NIH Dietary Fact Sheet on Calcium Additional Reading





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