Chow Line: Know your numbers when taking calcium (for 12/20/09)

December 10, 2009

How can I be sure I'm getting enough calcium? If I need a supplement, what should I look for?

The amount of calcium you should get each day changes with age. Here's the breakdown:

  • Age 1-3: 500 milligrams.
  • Age 4-8: 800 milligrams.
  • Age 9-18: 1,300 milligrams.
  • Age 19-49: 1,000 milligrams.
  • Age 50 and older: 1,200 milligrams.

You can look on Nutrition Facts labels to get calcium content on most foods. If there's just a percentage Daily Value listed instead of the actual amount, you should know that the Daily Value for calcium is 1,000 milligrams. So, if you are 50 or older, for example, you would actually need 120 percent of the Daily Value of calcium to get the amount you need.

You can estimate the amount of calcium you normally get in your diet by using an international online calculator available on the Healthfinder Web site of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Just go to http://healthfinder.gov, click on "C" for calcium, and scroll down to Calcium Calculator. The calculator will ask for your sex and age, and how often you eat certain calcium-rich foods. (Note: 200 milliliters is about 2/3 of a cup; 300 milliliters is about 1 cup; and 150 grams is about 5.25 ounces.) While the calculation isn't pinpoint accurate, it will give you a good idea of what your intake might be without having to examine the label of every food you eat.

If it appears you should increase your calcium intake and want to try a calcium supplement, you'll find you have many choices. Here are some tips from the National Osteoporosis Foundation (http://www.nof.org/) and the National Institutes of Health (http://www.niams.nih.gov; search for "Calcium Supplements: What to Look For"):

  • Calcium comes in the form of a compound, such as calcium carbonate, calcium phosphate or calcium citrate. Each contains a different percentage of calcium; look at the label for the amount of actual calcium (or "elemental calcium") in each dose.
  • Calcium is easiest for the body to absorb when taken in smaller amounts, no more than 500 or 600 milligrams at a time.
  • Most forms of calcium should be taken with food; the stomach acids that result help the body absorb the mineral. Calcium citrate can be taken any time.
  • Look for a brand name you trust, or the USP (United States Pharmacopeia) symbol on the label. This voluntary symbol indicates the supplement meets certain standards. Avoid supplements without that symbol that are made from unrefined oyster shell, bone meal or dolomite; they may contain lead or other toxic metals.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1044, or filipic.3@cfaes.osu.edu.

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carolyn Gunther, director of research in the College of Education and Human Ecology; faculty member in the Department of Human Nutrition; and researcher with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.

Author(s): 
Martha Filipic
Source(s): 
Carolyn Gunther