Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body with 99 percent found in teeth and bone. Calcium, with the help of vitamin D, builds bones and slows the degree of bone loss. Your heart, muscles and bones all need calcium to function. Getting enough calcium in your diet is essential at all ages, especially in childhood and late adulthood.
Preventing bone loss as you age
As we age, bone destruction begins to exceed our body’s ability to build bones, creating a negative calcium balance, which often leads to bone loss. Because of this, those in late adulthood, especially females, are at a higher risk for bone loss and associated disorders such as osteoporosis.
Other symptoms of calcium deficiency include feeling frail, which can lead to falls, numbness in hands and fingers, and difficulty falling or staying asleep. We must restore calcium levels by consuming calcium-rich foods to prevent bone loss and other associated symptoms.
It’s important to note that bone loss cannot be reversed. However, bone loss can be prevented.
The Recommend Dietary Allowance (RDA) for males ages 51-70 is 1000 mg/day, and for females ages 51-70, it is 1200 mg/day. For those over 70, 1200 mg/day is recommended for both sexes. What does this realistically look like in meal planning? Let’s examine some calcium-rich foods.
Counting calcium in your food
When we think about eating calcium, we often think we will end up with a milk mustache. However, calcium-rich foods come in wide varieties. In fact, all five MyPlate food groups contain calcium-rich options. Even foods not naturally rich in calcium may be fortified with the mineral to increase nutritional value.
Use the guide below to explore calcium-rich foods.
|Produce||Serving Size||Estimated Calcium|
|Collard greens, cooked||1 cup||266 mg|
|Kale, cooked||1 cup||179 mg|
|Figs, dried||2 figs||65 mg|
|Broccoli, cooked, fresh||1 cup||60 mg|
|Oranges||1 whole||55 mg|
|Seafood||Serving Size||Estimated Calcium|
|Sardines, canned with bones||3 oz||325 mg|
|Salmon, canned with bones||3 oz||180 mg|
|Dairy||Serving Size||Estimated Calcium|
|Yogurt, plain, low-fat||6 oz||310 mg|
|Milk, skim, low-fat, whole||8 oz||300 mg|
|American Cheese||1 oz||195 mg|
|Cottage Cheese, 2%||4 oz||105 mg|
|Ice cream, vanilla||8 oz||55 mg|
|Other||Serving Size||Estimated Calcium|
|Almond Milk, fortified||8 oz||300 mg|
|Orange Juice, fortified||8 oz||300 mg|
|Mac & Cheese, frozen||1 package||325 mg|
|Beans, baked, canned||4 oz||160 mg|
Meeting your calcium needs in a day can feel overwhelming. To make this more manageable, divide your calcium RDA by the number of meals you typically consume in a day. For example, if you are 70 years old and eat three meals a day, you should aim to consume 333 mg of calcium at each meal. Drinking 8 ounces of milk or a fortified milk alternative at each meal is an effective way to ensure you get enough calcium. However, you can always get creative with cheese, fortified cereals, beans, and other calcium-rich foods.
At your next mealtime, moove to those calcium-rich foods to feel your best and keep your bones strong!
Looking for more tips on nutrition and eating right as an older adult? Check out our e-book “Secrets to Making Mealtimes Easier!”
Emily Korte is the CICOA Nutrition and Food Security VISTA. She has a bachelor’s in nutrition and dietetics from Central Michigan University. In 2021, Emily served as Summer Nutrition Intern at Gleaners, where she implemented virtual and in-person nutrition education to children in the Indianapolis area. Emily brings this nutrition knowledge to the Meals & More department where she assists in implementing nutrition education and promoting the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program. In the fall, Emily plans to attend Northern Illinois University to pursue a master’s in nutrition and dietetics with a certificate in public health. After graduation, she plans to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and pursue a career in which she can provide nutrition education and advocate for food assistance programs throughout the United States.