Calcium-rich Food

Last updated by Authored by Peer reviewed by Dr Toni Hazell
Last updated Originally published Meets Patient’s editorial guidelines

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Calcium is an important nutrient with many functions. It's necessary for nerve function, to help muscles contract and to assist with normal blood clotting. Our primary source of calcium is from food.

Calcium is plays an important role in building and maintaining strong teeth and bones. It also helps to prevent loss of bone strength (osteoporosis) as we age.

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, but because we can't make it, we need to consume calcium-rich foods instead.

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Foods rich in calcium include:

  • Milk and dairy products.
  • Fish with edible bones, such as tinner salmon.
  • Green, leafy vegetables.
  • Nuts.
  • Seeds.
  • Fruits.

Some food manufacturers also enrich food products with calcium by adding it to certain foods - for example, in soya milk, orange juice, cereals and breads. In the UK, all wheat flour except wholemeal must be fortified with calcium.

Milk and dairy sources of calcium

FoodPortion sizeCalcium
Milk (any type)200 ml240 mg
Yoghurt125 g200 mg
Cheddar cheese30 g216 mg
Soft cheese triangle15 g100 mg
Cottage cheese100 g73 mg
Rice pudding200 g180 mg
Ice cream60 g (one scoop)78 mg
Custard120 ml150 mg

Non-dairy sources of calcium

FoodPortion sizeCalcium
Sardines100 g (four sardines)410 mg
Pilchards100 g (two pilchards)340 mg
Haddock150 g fillet150 mg
Baked beans220 g (one half of a large can)100 mg
Enriched soya/rice milk200 ml240 mg
Enriched orange juice250 ml300 mg
Tofu100 g500 mg
Spring green100 g200 mg
Spinach100 g150 mg
Watercress50 g75 mg
Broccoli50 g30 mg
Okra50 g130 mg
Kale50 g65 mg
Chickpeas100 g45 mg
Almonds15 g35 mg
Brazil nuts15 g26 mg
Sesame seedsone tablespoon160 mg
Dried figs60 g (three figs)150 mg
Calcium-enriched breadTwo slices (80 g)300 mg
Currants100 g93 mg

Adults over the age of 18 years need around 700 mg of calcium per day. There are other circumstances where more calcium is required. This may be if you:

Getting enough calcium

There are web pages and apps which will help you add up the calcium in your diet to make sure you are getting as much as you need. See an example of an online calcium calculator here.

If you find it difficult to get enough calcium from your diet - for example, if you are a vegan who is unable to tolerate soya - calcium supplement tablets are available at supermarkets and chemists.

Calcium deficiency

You need to make sure you are consuming enough calcium-rich food if you have low calcium levels in the blood (hypocalcaemia) or are taking steroids. One of the side-effects of taking steroid tablets in the long term (for three months or more) is an increased risk of developing osteoporosis. This is known as steroid-induced osteoporosis.

There is some evidence that sodium in the diet, (generally in the form of salt), can increase calcium loss from the body. It is generally a good idea to reduce salt in your diet, but particularly so if you are trying to make sure your body gets plenty of calcium.

If you are on additional treatment for osteoporosis (such as alendronic acid) then it is particularly important that you are eating enough calcium, as these treatments will not work if your calcium intake is too low.

Side-effects of calcium supplements

People who are taking high doses of calcium supplements may increase their risk of heart disease but there is no association of increased risk with a diet which is naturally high in calcium.

Vitamin D is needed so that the body can absorb calcium effectively.

Unlike other vitamins, we do not need to get vitamin D from food. Most of the vitamin D we have is made by our own bodies. It is made in the skin by the action of sunlight. This is a good thing because most foods contain no, or very little, vitamin D naturally.

However, this can also be a problem if you live in an area where sunshine cannot be guaranteed (even in summer), or if it is culturally inappropriate for you to have your skin uncovered.

How much vitamin D do we need to absorb calcium?

The Department of Health and Social Care currently recommends that everyone should take a vitamin D supplement of 10 micrograms (mcg) daily during the winter months (October-March). Some people are at greater risk of vitamin D deficiency; therefore, a routine vitamin D supplement all year round is recommended. This includes:

  • All pregnant and breastfeeding women.
  • All babies and young children aged 6 months to 5 years should take a daily supplement containing vitamin D in the form of vitamin drops. However, those infants who are fed infant formula will not need vitamin drops until they are receiving less than 500 ml of infant formula a day, as these products are fortified with vitamin D. Breast-fed infants may need to receive drops containing vitamin D from 1 month of age if their mother has not taken vitamin D supplements throughout pregnancy.
  • People aged 65 years and over.
  • People who are not exposed to much sun, or who have darker skin.

See the separate leaflet called Vitamin D Deficiency for further information.


Vitamin D Deficiency

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Further reading and references