Got Calcium?

by | Last updated May 14, 2024 | Bone & Muscle Health, Foods, Nutrition

When you think of calcium, what’s the first food that comes to your mind? Milk, right? But what if you avoid milk products? Can you still get enough calcium?


The amount of calcium the body needs each day is still debated by scientists. The current US recommendation is 1,000 milligrams a day for most adults, and higher for teens and for women past menopause.1 An intriguing paradox is that women in many developing countries have significantly lower levels of calcium intake, yet have fewer osteoporotic fractures.2 One possible explanation has to do with the large amounts of protein and sodium that many Americans consume. People in developing countries eat less of these nutrients. Since too much protein and sodium increase the amount of calcium lost in the urine, then Americans need more calcium (according to some nutritionists).3

So, if you’re eating a healthful, plant-based diet can you get away with less calcium than what is recommended? Perhaps. But be careful! Sodium tends to hide in foods. What about the seasoning package you love to cook with? Look at the label on your favorite spaghetti sauce and salsa. You might not really be on a low-sodium diet.

The protein question is a little different. It’s true that if you eat more protein, you’re likely to lose more calcium in your urine. But you may be absorbing more calcium from your food as well, causing very little overall calcium loss.4

Then, if you’re eating less protein than your friends, can you skimp on the calcium? Not necessarily. A large 5-year study showed that vegans are more likely than others to break a bone. Researchers found that vegans had a 30% higher fracture rate compared to those who ate meat. Interestingly, the vegans in this study who ate 525 milligrams or more of calcium every day did not experience the higher fracture rate.5 The trouble is that some vegans don’t get that much calcium.6


That’s the tough part. Many people don’t know that they’re deficient until they develop osteoporosis. Even measuring the calcium level in your blood won’t reveal whether you’re eating enough. You might be stealing calcium from your bones in order to keep your blood calcium level within an adequate range. Therefore, following the recommended intake amount is wise.


Taking too much calcium can cause constipation and may increase your chances of getting kidney stones. There is also some evidence linking excess calcium with prostate cancer and heart disease.7


Good sources of calcium include soybeans, collard greens, and tofu that is processed with calcium. Smaller amounts of calcium are also found in broccoli, bok choy, sesame seeds, blackstrap molasses, and almonds. Also, many foods like nondairy milk substitutes and juices are generously fortified with calcium. If you are not getting enough calcium from your food, be sure to take a supplement to make up the shortfall.


Food Serving Size Calcium (mg)
Silk soymilk* 1 cup 450
Silk almond milk* 1 cup 450
Collard greens ½ cup 179
Soybeans, cooked 1 cup 175
Tofu 4 ounces 133
Almonds 1 ounce 75
Sesame butter (tahini) 1 tablespoon 64
Molasses 1 tablespoon 41
Bok choy, shredded raw ½ cup 37
Broccoli ½ cup 31

*fortified foods8


The vitamin D hormone (calcitriol) aids calcium absorption. The risk factors for insufficient vitamin D include: decreased dietary intake, insufficient time in sunlight,  dark pigmented skin, digestive disorders (malabsorption, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s, bowel inflammatory disease, bariatric surgery, pancreatic insufficiency). Liver and kidney disease can reduce the ability to convert vitamin D into the active hormone. Certain medicines like steroids, cholesterol-lowering medicine, and weight loss drugs can interfere with calcium absorption. Insufficient or even deficient levels of vitamin D is commonly seen in obesity.

Think of your bones as banking your calcium. In the bones, parathyroid (PTH) from the parathyroid glands stimulates the release of calcium in an indirect process through osteoclasts which ultimately leads to the resorption of the bones. Calcitonin produced by certain cells in the thyroid gland exerts the opposite effects of PTH.  Thyroid disorders and estrogen flotations may affect the calcium levels.


When the blood is low on calcium, the PTH withdraws it from our skeletal system. Medical contributors, and not dietary factors, are the usual cause of overt calcium deficiency. By the time low calcium shows up in the blood, the bones are already weakened.  Low levels of parathyroid hormone and diseases of the pancreas, gut, liver, and kidneys can cause low calcium levels.

Steroids and peptic ulcer and heartburn medicines decrease calcium absorption. Diuretics, caffeine, and excess sodium increases its loss through the urine.

Muscle cramps or spasms, osteoporosis. tingling around the mouth or in the extremities, dry scaly skin, brittle nails, abnormal heart rhythms may be indicative of low calcium or vitamin D. So, it is best to get checked.



© 2024, Wildwood Sanitarium. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is educational and general in nature. Neither Wildwood Lifestyle Center, its entities, nor author intend this article as a substitute for medical diagnosis, counsel, or treatment by a qualified health professional.


  1. Office of Dietary Supplements. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Calcium, ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/calcium-healthprofessionals/#82
  2. Nordin BC. Calcium Requirement is a Sliding Scale. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2000; 71(6):1381-1383
  3. Heaney RP. Role of dietary sodium in osteoporosis. J Am Coll Nutr.2006 Jun; 25(3 Suppl):271S-276S
  4. Hunt JR. Dietary protein and calcium interact to influence calcium retention: a controlled feeding study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 89, Issue 5, 1 May 2009, Pages 1357–1365 doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2008.2723
  5. Appleby P. Comparative fracture risk in vegetarians and nonvegetarians in EPIC-Oxford. Epub 2007 Feb 7
  6. Davey GK. EPIC-Oxford: lifestyle characteristics and nutrient intakes in a cohort of 33 883 meat-eaters and 31 546 non-meat-eaters in the UK. Public Health Nutr. 2003 May; 6(3):259-69
  7. Office of Dietary Supplements. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Calcium, ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/calcium-healthprofessionals/#82
  8. USDA National Agriculture Library

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