Calcium-rich Diet

Authored by , Reviewed by Dr Jacqueline Payne | Last edited | Meets Patient’s editorial guidelines

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.

Calcium is more commonly known for its role in building and maintaining strong teeth and bones. It helps to prevent 'thinning' of the bones (osteoporosis). Making sure we have enough calcium will help to maintain bone strength and reduce the amount of bone that is lost as we age. It is the most abundant mineral in the body and because we can't make it, we need to consume a diet rich in calcium.

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:

You also need to make sure you are getting enough calcium 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 dietary sodium, and certainly if you are trying to make sure your body gets plenty of calcium, it would be sensible to cut down on salt.

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.

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.

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The most well-known sources of calcium are milk and dairy products. However, calcium is also found in many other foods. This includes fish with edible bones such as tinned salmon, green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and 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

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 one such online calcium calculator here, and another 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.

Vitamin D is needed for the body to 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.

Public Health England recommends that everyone should take a vitamin D supplement of 10 micrograms (mcg) daily during the winter. 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 separate leaflet called Vitamin D Deficiency for further information.

Further reading and references