Dietary Sources of Calcium

Table 1: Recommended Adequate Intake by the IOM for Calcium

Male and Female Age Calcium (mg/day) Pregnancy & Lactation
0 to 6 months 210 N/A
7 to 12 months 270 N/A
1 to 3 years 500 N/A
4 to 8 years 800 N/A
9 to 13 years 1300 N/A
14 to 18 years 1300 1300
19 to 50 years 1000 1000
51+ years 1200 N/A


There is a widespread concern that Americans and westerners in general are not meeting the recommended intake for calcium. According to the Continuing Survey of Food Intakes of Individuals (CSFII 1994-96), the following percentage of Americans are not meeting their recommended intake for calcium:

  • 44% boys and 58% girls ages 6-11
  • 64% boys and 87% girls ages 12-19
  • 55% men and 78% of women ages 20+
    What foods provide calcium? In the United States (U.S.), milk, yogurt and cheese are the major contributors of calcium in the typical diet The inadequate intake of dairy foods may explain why some Americans are deficient in calcium since dairy foods are the major source of calcium in the diet. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Guide Pyramid recommends that individuals two years and older eat 2-3 servings of dairy products per day. A serving is equal to:
  • 1 cup (8 fl oz) of milk
  • 8 oz of yogurt
  • 1.5 oz of natural cheese (such as Cheddar)
  • 2.0 oz of processed cheese (such as American)

A variety of non-fat and reduced fat dairy products that contain the same amount of calcium as regular dairy products are generally available today for individuals concerned about saturated fat content from regular dairy products.

Although dairy products are the main source of calcium in the U.S. diet, other foods also contribute to overall calcium intake. Individuals with lactose intolerance (those who experience symptoms such as bloating and diarrhea because they cannot completely digest the milk sugar lactose) and those who are vegan (people who consume no animal products) tend to avoid or completely eliminate dairy products from their diets. Thus, it is important for these individuals to meet their calcium needs with alternative calcium sources if they choose to avoid or eliminate dairy products from their diet. Foods such as Chinese cabbage, kale and broccoli are other alternative calcium sources . Although most grains are not high in calcium (unless fortified), they do contribute calcium to the diet because they are consumed frequently. Additionally, there are several calcium-fortified food sources presently available, including fruit juices, fruit drinks, tofu and cereals. Certain plant-based foods such as some vegetables contain substances which can reduce calcium absorption. Thus, you may have to eat several servings of certain foods such as spinach to obtain the same amount of calcium in one cup of milk, which is not only calcium-rich but also contains calcium in an easily absorbable form. Table 1 contains additional listings of food sources of calcium.

Table 1: Selected Food Sources of Calcium

Food Calcium (mg) % DV*
Yogurt, plain, low fat, 8 oz. 415 42%
Yogurt, fruit, low fat, 8 oz. 245-384 25%-38%
Sardines, canned in oil, with bones, 3 oz. 324 32%
Cheddar cheese, 1 ½ oz shredded 306 31%
Milk, non-fat, 8 fl oz. 302 30%
Milk, reduced fat (2% milk fat), no solids, 8 fl oz. 297 30%
Milk, whole (3.25% milk fat), 8 fl oz 291 29%
Milk, buttermilk, 8 fl oz. 285 29%
Milk, lactose reduced, 8 fl oz.** 285-302 29-30%
Mozzarella, part skim 1 ½ oz. 275 28%
Tofu, firm, made w/calcium sulfate, ½ cup*** 204 20%
Orange juice, calcium fortified, 6 fl oz. 200-260 20-26%
Salmon, pink, canned, solids with bone, 3 oz. 181 18%
Pudding, chocolate, instant, made w/ 2% milk, ½ cup 153 15%
Cottage cheese, 1% milk fat, 1 cup unpacked 138 14%
Tofu, soft, made w/calcium sulfate, ½ cup*** 138 14%
Spinach, cooked, ½ cup 120 12%
Instant breakfast drink, various flavors and brands, powder prepared with water, 8 fl oz. 105-250 10-25%
Frozen yogurt, vanilla, soft serve, ½ cup 103 10%
Ready to eat cereal, calcium fortified, 1 cup 100-1000 10%-100%
Turnip greens, boiled, ½ cup 99 10%
Kale, cooked, 1 cup 94 9%
Kale, raw, 1 cup 90 9%
Ice cream, vanilla, ½ cup 85 8.5%
Soy beverage, calcium fortified, 8 fl oz. 80-500 8-50%
Chinese cabbage, raw, 1 cup 74 7%
Tortilla, corn, ready to bake/fry, 1 medium 42 4%
Tortilla, flour, ready to bake/fry, one 6" diameter 37 4%
Sour cream, reduced fat, cultured, 2 Tbsp 32 3%
Bread, white, 1 oz 31 3%
Broccoli, raw, ½ cup 21 2%
Bread, whole wheat, 1 slice 20 2%
Cheese, cream, regular, 1 Tbsp 12 1%

*DV=Daily Value
**Content varies slightly according to fat content; average =300 mg calcium
*** Calcium values are only for tofu processed with a calcium salt. Tofu processed with a non-calcium salt will not contain significant amounts of calcium.

Daily Values (DV) were developed to help consumers determine if a typical serving of a food contains a lot or a little of a specific nutrient. The DV for calcium is based on 1000 mg. The percent DV (% DV) listed on the Nutrition Facts panel of food labels tells you what percentages of the DV are provided in one serving. For instance, if you consumed a food that contained 300 mg of calcium, the DV would be 30% for calcium on the food label.

A food providing 5% of the DV or less is a low source while a food that provides 10-19% of the DV is a good source and a food that provides 20% of the DV or more is an excellent source for a nutrient.