Spotlight on Calcium: 1 of the 7 Essential Minerals

*This article is part 2 of a series on the seven essential minerals that your body needs large quantities of to function. To read part 1 about the surprising benefits of magnesium, click here.

I​f you grew up in the United States, chances are that your entire life you were told to drink your milk for strong, healthy bones. But, the truth is that it’s not the milk itself that’s important. It’s the calcium in the milk that’s important. Calcium is one of the seven essential minerals that your body cannot work right without. In this article, you’ll learn:

Why Calcium is an Essential Mineral

You could also call this section “why the body needs calcium”. You probably already know that it’s important for healthy bones. What you may not know is that calcium also supports heart, nerve, and muscle functions. Since your heart pumps your blood, your nerves help you feel and process information, and the muscles help you move, these are some important bodily functions. Although more in-depth studies are needed, preliminary data suggests that together with Vitamin D, calcium may prevent cancer, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Wow!

What Happens If You Don’t Get Enough

The age groups most at risk of the consequences of not getting enough of this essential mineral are children/adolescents and adults over 50. When children and adolescents don’t get enough, they have a greater risk of breaking bones and may not grow to their full potential height. Adults over 50 with lower bone density have a higher risk of osteoporosis. But, if you’re between the ages of 18-50, getting enough calcium is still essential to good health.

How Much is Enough and How it’s Absorbed

The average serving size is 300-350 milligrams. T​o absorb the calcium that you consume, whether it’s in food or supplement form, your body needs adequate levels of Vitamin D. That’s why supplements or fortified foods and drinks often contain both. Your body absorbs calcium better when it’s consumed in or with food in doses of 500 mg or less. Eating or drinking foods with higher levels of calcium does not give you more benefits. In fact, too much calcium can be a bad thing, so be mindful of your calcium consumption.

Here’s a handy chart depicting the doses recommended by medical professionals like the Mayo Clinic:

Chart showing how much of the essential mineral calcium each person needs daily by age and gender
This chart shows how much of this essential mineral each person needs by age and sex

Reasons You May Need More Calcium

Some people get plenty of calcium through their diet, but many don’t. To evaluate if you may need to talk with your doctor about calcium supplements, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do you have a vegan diet?
  2. Are you lactose intolerant or do you limit your dairy consumption for other reasons?
  3. Do you have a high-protein diet? (looking at you, most of the fitness world)
  4. Is your diet high in sodium? (if you eat a lot of processed or take-out foods, answer yes)
  5. Have you used corticosteroids on a long-term basis?
  6. Do you have IBS, celiac disease, or a similar digestive disorder?

If you answered yes to one or more of those questions, it’s worth having a chat with your doctor.

Risks of Too Much Calcium

Whether by diet or supplement, there are risks associated with consuming too much calcium. These include:

  • bloating
  • gas
  • constipation (using a calcium carbonate supplement increases your risk of this side effect)
  • dangerous if you have a condition called hypercalcemia.
  • Studies show a link between consuming high doses of calcium and heart disease, especially when taken in supplement form.
  • Some studies also show a link between calcium consumption and prostate cancer, although others show no such link exists.

All About Supplementing This Essential Mineral

With all essential minerals, if you aren’t getting enough by diet, you should consider supplementing. I recommend choosing supplements with high elemental calcium that were submitted for voluntary testing by the USP, CL, or NSF. The two most common supplement forms are calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Calcium lactate and calcium gluconate are other forms. Calcium carbonate has the highest elemental calcium level at 40% and is also the most affordable. If you have digestive issues (see the section above) from calcium carbonate, try switching to calcium citrate (21%) or calcium lactate (13%). Calcium gluconate comes in last at 9%.

Warning! Read This if You Take Prescription Medication

One of the main reasons you should check with your doctor before taking calcium (or any other) supplements is the risk of negative interactions with prescription medications. For calcium, the list of possible interactions includes:

  • blood pressure medications
  • synthetic thyroid hormones
  • antibiotics
  • calcium channel blockers and
  • bisphosphonates

Calcium-Rich Foods

Here are the top 14 dietary sources of calcium, including 11 that are dairy-free.

Image of poppy seed cakes to illustrate that poppy and other seeds are good sources of the essential mineral calcium
Poppy, sesame, celery, and chia seeds are good sources of this essential mineral
Aged, hard cheeses are another good source of essential minerals like calcium, especially Parmesan
Aged, hard cheeses are another good source, especially Parmesan
Yogurt is high in calcium. Low-fat yogurt has the most, followed by full-fat, with Greek yogurt in the last place.
Yogurt is high in calcium. Low-fat yogurt has the most, followed by full-fat, with Greek yogurt in the last place.
Image of sardines, which are good sources of essential minerals like calcium thanks to their edible bones
Thanks to their edible bones, sardines and canned salmon are good sources of essential minerals
Image of cooked winged beans, which along with white beans are high in calcium.
I’ve never had them, but winged beans are high in calcium. So are white beans.
Out of all the nuts, almonds are the best source of calcium. Almond milk included.
Out of all the nuts, almonds are the best source of calcium. Almond milk included.
Image of whey protein powder being measured out because whey is a good source of the essential mineral calcium.
Fans of a morning and/or post-workout protein shake will be happy to hear that whey protein is a way to get more of this essential mineral
Leafy greens like collard greens and kale are great sources. Spinach is not as great because it's high in oxalates that impair absorption.
Leafy greens like collard greens and kale are great sources. Spinach is not as great because it’s high in oxalates that impair absorption.
rhubarb pie (shown for the rhubarb)
Shown here as a pie, rhubarb also contains oxalates, but not enough to cancel out its calcium benefits
fortified dry breakfast cereals are sources of essential minerals including calcium
More ways to get your calcium in are fortified breakfast cereals, bread, tortillas, and crackers
baked amaranth cereal. amaranth seeds and leaves are calcium-rich.
Amaranth is a flowering plant whose seeds (shown as a baked cereal) and leaves are excellent ways to get calcium
edamame is another source of calcium
Edamame is another source of calcium
milk, nut milk, and fortified orange juice are high in calcium
I’m sure it’s no surprise to see milk on this list, but nut milk and fortified juices like O.J. are also included
Figs are also high in calcium but opt for dried over fresh. Both are shown here.
Figs are also high in calcium but opt for dried over fresh. If you know why this is, drop the answer in the comments!

Here’s a Bonus for Reading About 1 of the 7 Essential Minerals

The poppyseed spirals shown above looked so good, I had to find a recipe. Since it’s a dessert recipe, I’m not sure how great the nutritional benefits will be, but I’m willing to take that risk. If you’d also like to try Kerrie Sun’s lemon poppyseed twirls, click here.

The next article in the seven essential minerals series will drop at the end of April 2023. Next week’s article will kick off a 3-week mini-series all about self-love. We’ll start with the dangers of not loving yourself enough. If you don’t already, make sure you subscribe so you never miss a new post!

Until Next Week,

Dee A. Rowe is the blogger behind BasicBFindsBalance. She’s also an author and wellness coach.

Did you know that walking also supports good bone, nerve, heart, and muscle health? It can also help with mood and mental health. Click here to learn more.

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