How much calcium is needed for good health?

Calcium is an important part of a healthy diet; however, the recommended intake differs according to age. As can be seen in the following table, the highest recommended intake is for children and adolescents between the ages of 9 and 18, when bones are growing rapidly.

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For adults (including women who are pregnant or breastfeeding) and for children age 1 or older, the safe upper limit of calcium intake is 2.5 grams (or 2500 mg) per day (1).

Too much calcium in the diet and from dietary supplements can lead to unwanted side effects.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 1994–1996 Continuing Survey of Food Intakes by Individuals showed that the average daily calcium intakes in the United States for males and females over age 9 were 925 mg and 657 mg, respectively, or less than the recommended intake (2).

How much calcium is in foods and calcium supplements?

Calcium is found in many foods. Foods high in calcium include dairy products, dark green vegetables, some soy products, fish, nuts, and legumes. The following table shows how much calcium is contained in some common foods.

Packaged foods are required to have a Nutrition Facts label (3). On foods that contain calcium, this label lists how much calcium there is in each serving of the packaged food. However, the Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods do not list the calcium content in mg. They only provide the Percent Daily Value (%DV), which is the amount one serving of a food item contributes to the total amount of calcium you need each day. The %DV for calcium is based on a recommended Daily Value of 1000 mg per day. Therefore, a food with 20%DV or more contributes a fair amount of a person’s daily total, whereas a food with 5%DV or less contributes only a little. As an example, 1 cup of milk provides 300 mg of calcium and 30%DV.