Calcium Fact Sheet

When you see the letters “Ca,” you may think of California, but it’s actually the symbol for calcium on the periodic table. Calcium is an essential nutrient. Read on to learn more about just how much calcium you should be getting – and why you should avoid consuming too much of it.

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Getting enough calcium is essential for your health. It not only promotes bone health, but it’s also needed for muscle contraction, blood vessel constriction and relaxation, hormone secretion, and nervous system function.

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An essential element, we require calcium in our diets, but many are calcium deficient –  including those who follow a vegan diet. If you don’t get enough calcium through diet, the body steals some from your bones, which may compromise bone strength and put you at a higher risk of osteoporosis.

Hypocalcemia is the medical term for not having enough calcium in the blood. Those who are hypocalcemic experience sensations of tingling, numbness and muscle twitches. One test for low calcium involves tapping the jaw and looking for muscle spasms, a reaction known as Chvostek’s Sign. However, while this may happen from not getting enough calcium in your diet, it more often happens from hormonal imbalances that throw off the body’s ability to regulate calcium levels.

Because of the connection between calcium and bone health, an array of calcium-fortified foods, drinks, chews and supplements have come on the market to make up for any deficits in our existing diets. While for some this may be helpful, some women (and men) may be overdosing on calcium. Many studies have shown that getting too much calcium can increase one’s risk of heart problems.

How much calcium should I get?

The Institute of Medicine recommends that adults 19 years old and older get 1,000 mg of calcium per day, with an upper limit of 2,000 mg.

A recently published study revealed that taking excess calcium can be bad for your heart. In one large study, researchers followed a cohort of over 60,000 women for nearly two decades. They found that those who got a lot of calcium in their diet and/or with a supplement had an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease or heart disease. The increased risk was more pronounced in those who got excess calcium and took a supplement.

There are many explanations for this connection. One in particular relates to how excess calcium can deposit itself on the inside of your arteries, like soap scum. Normally, arteries are elastic and are able to flex and pulse with every heartbeat. However, as the calcium starts to build up, it deposits in the arteries in layers and gets hard. With this plaque building up, your heart has to work harder in order to effectively pump blood throughout your body, leading to cardiovascular disease.

Are calcium supplements safe?

Depending on one’s need for calcium and risk for osteoporosis, some may benefit from taking a supplement. Most supplements are safe if used according to its indications and as recommended by a qualified health-care professional.

However, the calcium in your food is more easily absorbed by your body. Doctors recommend getting as much calcium as possible from your diet.

What are good sources of calcium?

There are plenty of foods that can help you meet your daily requirements for calcium:

  • Low-fat Greek yogurt: This superfood has twice the amount of protein as regular yogurt and plenty of calcium and probiotics. One 8-ounce cup has 415 mg of calcium.
  • Collard greens: A Southern staple! Sautée with onions and garlic and add a little vegetable broth while they simmer. One cup has 350 mg of calcium.
  • Canned salmon: This is a great source of calcium because canned salmon contains small, soft calcium-containing bones. Add it to salads or make salmon cakes. Salmon also provides protein and omega-3’s. One 3-ounce serving has 181 mg of calcium.
  • White beans: They go well with brown rice as a side dish. You can also add them to salads or make a delicious bean dip. A half-cup of beans contains 100 mg of calcium.

Use this calcium calculator to manage your calcium intake and track how much you’re getting from your meals. If you still think you’re not getting enough calcium from your food, you can take a 600 mg of supplemental calcium, which is often found in a daily multivitamin.