Most people need to eat more calcium-rich foods

June 06, 2000

When we think of bones, we often think of calcium. But several other nutrients work with calcium to develop, strengthen and maintain bones and teeth. The most important are phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin D and fluoride.

Recommendations for all five nutrients have been updated by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences.

The biggest changes are for calcium. For adolescents and teens still building bone, recommended levels increased from 1,200 to 1,300 milligrams per day.

For adults to age 50, recommendations increased from 800 to 1,000 milligrams daily. After age 50, recommended levels increased to 1,200 milligrams daily. This will help minimize bone loss in later years and keep osteoporosis in check.

The good news is that we know more than ever about the role of calcium in maintaining healthy bones. The bad news is that many of us didn't come close to meeting the old recommendations. We're even further off the mark now.


Less than half of all Americans consume enough calcium. Teens are the worst offenders. Studies show that 86 percent of teen girls and 65 percent of teen boys do not meet recommended levels. Adult women are not much better. On the average, American women consume 500 to 600 milligrams of calcium daily. This is about half the amount now recommended.

Most doctors and nutritionists recommend that people look to food first for their calcium. Food sources supply other nutrients, such as phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin D and lactose, that help the body absorb and use calcium. Use supplements to help boost calcium intake, not as its primary source. For people unable to obtain sufficient calcium through diet, supplements such as calcium carbonate, calcium citrate, calcium lactate or calcium gluconate can help. Of these, calcium carbonate is most often recommended because it provides the most calcium per tablet. Calcium citrate is somewhat easier for older people with low stomach acidity to tolerate.


Dairy products

Dairy products, such as milk, cheese and yogurt, are the most concentrated food sources of calcium. One cup of milk contains approximately 300 milligrams of calcium, and a cup of plain yogurt has around 400 milligrams. People who are mildly lactose-intolerant often can enjoy small amounts of dairy products such as yogurt, cheese and lactase-treated milk. People who are allergic to dairy products or who have severe lactose intolerance can still consume significant amounts of calcium from food. Good sources are dry beans, fish with edible bones, tofu - if processed with calcium sulfate, calcium-fortified orange juice and dark green vegetables such as broccoli, kale, collards and turnip greens.

Dairy foods are an essential component of a healthful, balanced diet.

Here are two quick dairy recipes you can try:

Double Strawberry Health Shake

  • 1 cup strawberries, sliced
  • 8-ounce container low-fat strawberry yogurt
  • 1 cup ice cubes
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

Combine strawberries, yogurt, ice cubes, milk, dry milk and sugar in blender container. Blend until smooth for 1 to 2 minutes. Serve immediately. Serves 3.

Raspberry Apple Milk Shake

  • 1 cup low-fat milk
  • 2 tablespoons frozen apple juice concentrate
  • 8 ounces low-fat raspberry yogurt

In a medium bowl, using a whisk or large fork, combine milk and apple juice concentrate until smooth. You can shake mixture in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. With a small spoon, stir yogurt and then add to milk and apple juice. Stir or shake until smooth and blended.

Serves 2.

Maryland Cooperative Extension programs are open to all citizens without regard to race, color, sex, disability, age, religion or national origin.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences extension educator for Maryland Cooperative Extension, Washington County.

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