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How Much Calcium is Enough?

Calcium Daily Recommended Intake (DRI)

Lifestage Group DRI (mg/day)
1-3 years 500 mg
4-8 years 800 mg
9-18 years 1,300 mg
19 – 50 years 1,000 mg
51+ years 1,200 mg

Pregnant or breastfeeding women less than 18 years of age 1,300 mg/day
Pregnant or breastfeeding women 19-50 years of age 1,000 mg/day

**These recommendations are for total intake through diet and/or supplements; not just one or the other.

Each cup of milk provides 300 mg of calcium. So 1,000 mg. equals approximately 3 and 1/3 cups [about 27 ounces] of milk per day. The National Dairy Council’s “3-Every-Day of Dairy” program helps to increase our awareness of this goal.

According to the National Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics “the Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for calcium is 2,500 mg/day. This is the maximum intake that is unlikely to pose risks of adverse health effects in almost all healthy individuals in a specified group. There is no established benefit for individuals to aim for the UL, or levels well above the daily goal. The need for setting ULs grew out of the increase in the practice of fortifying food with nutrients and in the use of dietary supplements by more people and in larger doses.” So, avoid the “more is better” mentality (exceeding the UL will not improve your health and may even cause harm).

Healthy foods that are rich in calcium include:

  • Low-fat and non-fat dairy products (like skim and 1% milk, some cheeses, and yogurt)
  • Tofu
  • Canned fish with bones you can eat (such as sardines and salmon)
  • Dark-green leafy vegetables (broccoli, kale, collard)
  • Breads made with calcium-fortified flour
  • Juices fortified with calcium (such as some brands of 100% orange juice)

These foods rich in calcium are good sources to include in your diet. If you don’t receive enough calcium in your diet, first try to improve your intake of calcium rich foods. If this is not possible, talk to your doctor or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist about using calcium supplementation instead.

When taking calcium supplements, the form of calcium, dosing, and timing must be considered for the best absorption. In additon, adequate vitamin D will also help in the absorption of calcium.

Many people get enough vitamin D just from being out in the sun for a short while every day, others do not (especially those who stay indoors most of the time.  In addition to spending some time in the sun, you can also get vitamin D from fortified cereals and milk or supplements. Most multivitamins contain some amount of vitamin D ranging from 400 to 1000 IU (read the product labels carefully). Experts continually evaluate current science to make sure recommended levels are safe and effective. Adult women and men up to the age 69 need 600 IU of Vitamin D per day.  People over 70 should take 800 IU of vitamin D per day.

For more information on calcium supplements, see the Frequently Asked Questions article, How do I know what kind of calcium supplement to take?

The development of this topic was funded in part by the Ohio Department of Health.

For more information:

Go to the Osteoporosis health topic.