Calcium-rich food for bones

By Danielle Butbul, MPH, RDN Mar 07, 2022 • 4 min

Calcium is an essential nutrient, which means the body doesn’t make it on its own. You must get calcium from the food you eat. Calcium is necessary for bone health, as well as many other functions that keep us healthy, so it's important to know which foods are good sources of this key nutrient.

Foods rich in calcium

Calcium is found naturally in many foods, with dairy being one of the richest and most common sources of calcium in most diets. In fact, about 72% of calcium consumption in the United States is from dairy foods or foods that contain dairy. However, there are many nondairy foods that are also naturally high in calcium.

The top food sources of calcium include:

  • Certain vegetables (such as kale, broccoli and bok choy)

  • Dairy foods (such as milk, cheese and yogurt)

  • Orange juice, fortified with calcium

  • Pink salmon and sardines, canned with bones

  • Soy milk, soybeans and tofu, fortified with calcium

Another important source of calcium is grains. Although grains do not inherently have a high calcium content, many people consume grains in large quantities, resulting in considerable overall calcium intake. Some ready-to-eat cereals are also fortified with calcium.

All calcium is not created equal

Some foods that are high in calcium, including spinach and beans, have limited benefits as a dietary calcium source. This is because compounds found in some plants bind to calcium in a way that limits the body's ability to absorb it. Therefore, just because two foods have the same amount of calcium doesn't mean that the calcium available to your body from those foods is equal. For example, only 5% of calcium found in spinach is absorbable, while 27% of calcium from milk can be used by the body.

Calcium with vitamin D

The relationship between calcium and vitamin D is also significant because your body needs vitamin D in order to absorb and utilize calcium. Foods that are rich in vitamin D include:

  • Beef liver

  • Beverages and foods fortified with vitamin D (such as dairy products, orange juice, soy drinks and cereals)

  • Egg yolks

  • Fish (such as salmon, tuna and mackerel)

Eating a varied diet made up of nutrient-dense foods from all food groups is the best way to ensure you get the calcium you need each day. If you’re having trouble getting enough calcium from foods, calcium supplements may be an option for you. Talk to your healthcare provider before taking supplements.

Published March 2022.

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