Essential Calcium Rich Foods for a Healthier You

Calcium, the unsung hero of your body, is stored predominantly in your bones and is essential for overall health.  

Over 3.5 billion people worldwide lack adequate calcium, and 44% of Americans fall short of the recommended intake. In this article, we’ll explore foods high in calcium and show you how to satisfy your calcium needs while enjoying tasty recipes.  We’ll share charts and insights from our Micros Masterclass to help you make informed choices.

Calcium is one of the most important minerals in the body, essential for building and maintaining strong bones and teeth. It also plays a crucial role in muscle function, nerve transmission, and blood clotting.

Despite its importance, many people do not get enough calcium in their diets. This article will guide you through some of the best sources of calcium rich foods and provide delicious recipes to help you meet your daily requirements.

Prepare to transform your diet and enrich your life with the calcium-rich foods you love.

Which Foods Are High in Calcium?

Calcium is found readily in plant and animal foods, although it tends to be more bioavailable in animal-sourced foods like cheese.

Dairy foods are the most calcium-dense and bioavailable sources of calcium.  These foods also include minimal amounts of vitamin D, which can be helpful in the intestinal absorption of calcium.

While calcium is also available in some plant foods, how much is absorbed is questionable because of phytates, oxalates, and other antinutrients.  These compounds are known to antagonise the absorption of minerals like calcium.

High Calcium Foods (Per Serving)

Dairy products are well-known sources of calcium. Milk, cheese, and yogurt are particularly high calcium rich foods. Including these in your diet can significantly boost your calcium intake.

If you fall short of the recommended calcium intake, focus on foods that contain more calcium per serving, like:

  • Jarlsberg cheese
  • Swiss cheese
  • Edam cheese
  • salmon
  • Gouda cheese
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Mozzarella
  • mackerel
  • natto
  • feta cheese
  • Greek yogurt

To help you get started, the list below shows the calcium provided by popular foods in the average serving sizes consumed by our Optimisers.  

high calcium foods

Once you’re ready to revitalise your diet with a wider variety of high-calcium foods, download our printable list of foods with more calcium per serving here.

Calcium Rich Foods (Per Calorie)

Many non-dairy sources of calcium are equally beneficial. Leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, and certain fish are excellent options for those who are lactose intolerant or prefer a plant-based diet.

Once you know you’re getting the minimum amount of calcium your body needs, you can zero in on foods that deliver more calcium per calorie to increase your satiety and nutrient density.  

Calcium rich foods like those listed below can help you boost your calcium intake without blowing your energy budget:

• bok choy
• arugula
• spinach
• beet greens
• dill pickles
• kale
• mustard greens
• kimchi
• yogurt (non-fat)
• parmesan cheese
• halloumi
• Swiss cheese

The infographic below shows popular foods that provide more calcium per calorie.

calcium rich foods

For more variety, check out our printable list of calcium-rich foods per calorie.

Calcium Foods Chart

Curious about how your favourite foods stack up in the calcium game?  Dive into our dynamic chart showcasing popular foods, comparing calcium content per calorie and per serving.  For an immersive experience, explore our interactive Tableau chart

calcium rich foods chart

How Much Calcium Do You Need?

Our satiety analysis reveals that your body craves at least 650 mg of calcium per 2000 calories, less than the Dietary Reference Intake of 1000 mg for men.  However, achieving the Optimal Nutrient Intake of 1650 mg per 2000 calories from food aligns with an impressive 23% reduction in energy intake.   

satiety response to calcium

Because calcium is critical for maintaining our bones, we have a specific appetite for it (Tordoff, 2001).  While getting more of all the micronutrients per calorie aligns with eating less, the relationship between calcium and energy intake is significant and second only to protein %.  

Highest Calcium Recipes

The chart below shows the NutriBooster recipes that we use in the Micros Masterclass plotted in terms of calcium vs. protein %.  Recipes towards the right will help you boost your calcium with fewer calories. 

calcium rich recipes

To dive into the details, you can open the interactive Tableau version of this chart (on your computer).  Click on each recipe to learn more about it and view a picture of the recipe. 

photos of high calcium recipes

What Is Calcium and Why Is It Important?

  • Calcium is perhaps most well-known for its importance in the healthy development and maintenance of bones and teeth, blood clotting, and nerve transmission
  • The body requires minerals like calcium for muscle contraction.  Magnesium works alongside calcium in this process, allowing for muscle relaxation.
  • Calcium is essential for children as they grow and develop.  Children who don’t get enough calcium may not grow to their full potential height and may develop other health issues.
  • Calcium is a nutrient necessary for the breakdown of histamines.
  • We need calcium for cell signalling, stabilising enzymes, and other proteins necessary for human metabolism.
  • The body needs adequate calcium to detoxify oxalate and heavy metals like lead.
  • Calcium helps regulate blood pressure and has been shown in studies to reduce hypertension and preeclampsia in pregnant women.
  • Hormone balance is partly regulated by calcium, and calcium can reduce premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and associated symptoms.
  • Too little calcium can increase the risk of developing osteoporosis in older people.  Osteoporosis is prevalent in older women, meaning the calcium demand in postmenopausal women is greater.  Fractures from falls are common in older people with low muscle mass and fragile bones and are often difficult to recover from.

Calcium Availability in the Food System

The chart below shows that the calcium content of commonly available foods has decreased significantly since the 1940s with the widespread introduction of chemical fertilisers and modern farming practices (data from the USDA Economic Research Service).  Therefore, today, you will need to consume 39% more food to get the same amount of calcium you would have in the 1940s. 

Calcium Availability in the Food System

Symptoms of Calcium Deficiency 

Because calcium is used in so many bodily processes, too little calcium is associated with symptoms including:

Risks of Calcium Supplementation

Studies suggest that a diet rich in calcium protects against heart disease, but supplemental calcium may increase the risk by depositing calcium where we don’t want it, like in our arteries.

  • A 2010 BMJ study found that those who used calcium supplements had a 139% greater risk of a heart attack, while increased calcium intake from food did not increase the risk.
  • A meta-analysis of studies involving more than 12,000 people also found that calcium supplementation increased the risk of heart attack by 31%, stroke by 20% and death from all causes by 9%.
  • An analysis of 12,000 men found that more than 1,000 mg of supplemental calcium per day from multivitamins or individual supplements was associated with a 20% increase in the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

Interaction with D3 and K2?

In addition to adequate calcium, it’s important to note that you also need sufficient vitamin D to ensure calcium absorption in the intestines and vitamin K2 to ensure calcium is stored in bones and teeth, not your arteries. Ironically, cheese and yogurt are excellent sources of all three nutrients.

Extra calcium intake from supplements, beyond what is required to build your bones and teeth, is excreted in the urine, which increases your risk of calcium kidney stones. 

Excess calcium can also build up in the kidneys as the body tries to excrete it. Subsequently, calcium and vitamin K2 from food and vitamin D from adequate sun exposure are critical.

The sudden dump of calcium into the bloodstream from supplements may lead to artery calcification. In contrast, calcium obtained from food is absorbed more slowly and is less likely to build up in places where it doesn’t belong.   

Absorption and Bioavailability of Calcium

Plant foods have questionable amounts of absorbable calcium because they contain phytates.  For example, phytates can be used in spinach, rhubarb, chard, legumes, grains and cereals.  Therefore, a diet high in refined grains provides less calcium, but the phytates ensure it is not adequately absorbed. 

Much like phytates, oxalates are compounds found readily in calcium-containing plant foods.  These antinutrients inhibit calcium absorption in the GI tract.

Around 20 – 25% of the calcium in legumes is absorbed.  Therefore, soaking legumes can help remove phytates before eating to improve calcium absorption.  The body absorbs over 30% and 40 – 60% of the calcium in cruciferous vegetables.  However, only 5 – 9% of calcium is absorbed from rhubarb and spinach. 

Vitamin D status and resistance training improve calcium absorption. However, lead exposure, overconsumption of magnesium and potassium, high alcohol consumption, and low hydrochloric acid (stomach acid) levels make it worse.

It is possible to overconsume calcium and cause harm, but this is rare in whole foods and is only a concern with supplements.  

Concerns around calcium bioavailability are likely minimal if you consume a broad range of nutrient-dense, calcium-rich foods and get plenty of sunlight.  However, you may be disappointed if you drink a lot of green smoothies, expecting to absorb a lot of calcium.

Synergistic Nutrients with Calcium

Calcium works synergistically with vitamins A, C, E, D, K2, arginine, boron, carnosine, chromium, copper, lysine, magnesium, methionine, phosphorus, potassium, and selenium.  Hence, we recommend getting your calcium from whole food sources packaged with other nutrients rather than relying on isolated supplements.

Getting enough dietary calcium means less vitamin D. Excessive phosphorus, magnesium, or potassium will increase your calcium requirement.  So, while you need to ensure you are getting enough of each nutrient, you also need to ensure you are not getting so much that you overwhelm your body’s ability to use other nutrients properly. 

The Calcium:Magnesium Ratio

In addition to vitamin D and phosphorus, your body also needs adequate magnesium levels to use calcium properly

  • Magnesium deficiency affects calcium metabolism and alters certain hormones that regulate calcium in the body.
  • A high calcium intake may interfere with magnesium levels by reducing intestinal absorption and increasing urinary excretion.  Magnesium deficiency is also known to induce calcium deficiency.
  • Calcium and magnesium also compete and interfere with one another’s functions if they are out of balance. 
  • Magnesium may prevent calcium from performing muscular contraction when the ratio of magnesium to calcium is out of balance.

Our analysis suggests that people who consume more calcium than magnesium consume fewer calories.   For more details, see Nutrient Balance Ratios: Do They Matter and How Can I Manage Them?

How Can I Calculate My Calcium Intake?

Curious about your calcium intake?  Take our Free 7-Day Nutrient Clarity Challenge and discover if you’re hitting the calcium sweet spot in your diet.

After just one week of tracking your daily meals with Cronometer, Nutrient Optimiser will unveil a personalised roadmap, your guide to a healthier, more nutrient-rich lifestyle. 

You’ll receive a curated list of foods and tantalising NutriBooster recipes that not only fill your Calcium gaps but also ensure you’re not missing out on critical nutrients.

Ready to unlock your nutrient potential?  Join the challenge and journey towards a brighter, healthier you!

Nutrient Density Starter Pack

Ready to supercharge your nutrition?  Get our Nutrient Density Starter Pack – your all-access pass to a healthier, more vibrant you!

In our quest to make Nutritional Optimization a breeze, we’re thrilled to offer you this treasure trove of tools and resources when you join our vibrant Optimising Nutrition Community:

  • Food Lists: Discover our carefully crafted lists optimised for each essential nutrient, tailored to your goals, preferences, and unique conditions.
  • The Healthiest Meal Plan in the World: Peek into a week of mouthwatering, nutrient-dense meals that’ll satisfy and energise you.
  • Recipes: Download delectable samples from our NutriBooster recipe books, designed to elevate your nutrition while tantalising your taste buds.
  • 7-Day Nutrient Clarity Challenge: Unearth your priority nutrients and pinpoint the foods and meals that pack a nutrient punch so you can kickstart your journey to better health.

Don’t miss out on this incredible opportunity to transform your nutrition effortlessly.  Join our community and unlock your path to a healthier, more vibrant you!

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