What should I eat to increase my calcium intake?


In cooperation with Miriella Ioannou, Clinical Nutritionist-Dietician, BSc, Scientific Director of the Dietetic Support & Metabolic Control Centre LOGO DIATROFIS Lemesos, Cyprus, Founding Member of the Hellenic Nutritionists Society, www.logodiatrofis.gr, www.activekids.gr, www.care24.gr.

Calcium is a very important nutrient throughout lifespan, with particular emphasis on the period of adolescence, when bones grow very quickly, but also in adulthood, when calcium absorption is reduced and, as a result, a greater intake is required in order to cover the body’s needs.

How much calcium do we need daily?

The daily requirements of calcium vary by age and sex and are altered during pregnancy or lactation. The recommended daily needs in calcium and the amount of dairy products’ servings required to cover these needs are presented below.


(1-3 years): 500 mg / day (2 servings of dairy products)
(4-8 years): 800 mg / day (3 servings of dairy products)

The rapid increase in bone mass during adolescence leads to increased calcium requirements.
(9-13 years): 1,300 mg / day (4-5 servings of dairy products)
(14-18 years): 1,300 mg / day (4-5 servings of dairy products)


  • 1,000 mg / day (3 servings of dairy products) for healthy adults (men and women).
  • 1,000-1,300 mg / day (3-4 servings of dairy products) for breastfeeding women and pregnant women during the third trimester of pregnancy.
  • 1,200 mg / day (4 servings of dairy products) for women over 51 years old.
    ​* One serving of dairy products is equivalent to one cup of milk, 1 cup of yogurt or 30-40 grams of cheese.

Which foods are rich sources of calcium?

It is widely known that dairy products, such as milk, yogurt and cheese, contain significant amounts of calcium, however calcium is present in other foods (mostly of plant origin) as well. Nevertheless, it should be mentioned that all other calcium sources contain significantly lower amounts of calcium compared with dairy products, and the form of calcium they contain is usually not well-absorbed by the body. Non-dairy sources of calcium include spinach, dried beans, nuts, almonds, sesame, dried figs, carob, and fish, such as sardines, salmon, tuna, etc.

What is the relationship between vitamin D and calcium?

It is not enough just to get an adequate amount of calcium, but at the same time it is important to get enough vitamin D as well. The necessity of vitamin D lies in the fact that it enables the body to efficiently use calcium from dietary sources and store it where necessary (in bones, teeth, etc.). The recommended daily needs in vitamin D are presented below.

  • 600 international units per day for healthy adults.
  • 800 international units per day for people over the age of 71.

Do light products contain the same amount of calcium?

Light (i.e., low-fat or non-fat) dairy products contain the same amount of calcium as the full-fat ones, and this applies to other nutrients as well. The light version of dairy products regards only the reduction in their fat content.

How we can reinforce calcium absorption?

  •  Consume 2-3 servings of dairy products on a daily basis.
  • Avoid some food combinations that inhibit the absorption of calcium. For example, calcium is not well absorbed from foods containing large amounts of oxalate, such as spinach and broccoli.
  •  Avoid alcohol consumption along with foods that are rich sources of calcium.
  • Avoid excess salt intake because it contributes to the excretion of calcium from the body.
  •  Avoid non-fat dairy products (0%) since they do not contain vitamin D (present in the fat that has been removed), which is responsible for the absorption of calcium from the body.
  •  Instead of consuming non-fat dairy products you can choose those that are low-fat e.g., milk or yogurt 1-2%, or those that are fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
  • Get exposed to the sunlight on a daily basis. Approximately 10 to 15 minutes of exposure to the sun for at least 3 times per week is necessary for an adequate production of vitamin D.

1. Lanou AJ, Berkow SE, Barnard ND. Calcium, Dairy Products, and Bone Health in Children and Young Adults: A Reevaluation of the Evidence. Pediatrics (2005);115:3:736 -743.
2. Steingrimsdottir L, Gunnarsson O, Indridason OS, Franzson L, Sigurdsson G. Relationship Between Serum Parathyroid Hormone Levels, Vitamin D Sufficiency, and Calcium Intake. JAMA. 2005;294(18):2336-2341.