Osteoporosis Canada

Calcium Rich Foods

Calcium: An Important Nutrient That Builds Stronger Bones

Calcium rich foods

Bone is living tissue, constantly renewing itself. Although bone is strong and relatively flexible, everyday wear and tear causes tiny structural defects, much like those that occur in the foundations of a building over time. In our bodies, there are two groups of special cells that perform the work of a “maintenance crew.”  Osteoclasts excavate any areas of damaged or weakened bone and then osteoblasts fill in the crevices with material that hardens to form new bone. This two-part process is called bone remodelling, and the cycle of remodelling is completed every three to four months in a healthy young adult.

As we age, the two groups of cells that form the maintenance crew become less efficient in working together – the osteoclasts remove old bone faster than the osteoblasts are able to rebuild it. In addition, calcium, like many nutrients, is absorbed less effectively as we age. In people who have relatively healthy bones, adequate calcium intake can help the remodelling process stay balanced. Studies of older adults show that adequate calcium intake can slow bone loss and lower the risk of fracture.

For those over 50, Canada’s Food Guide recommends 3 servings of milk and alternatives (2 servings for adults under age 50) – yogurt, cheese, calcium-fortified beverages, puddings, custards, etc. This essentially means that, if you are over 50, you need the equivalent of one good serving of dairy at each meal.

Take your pick:  have a glass of milk (go ahead and have chocolate milk if you prefer), have soup that’s made with milk (like cream of mushroom soup), main courses made with cheese such as lasagna, or have yogurt with fruit for dessert. A 3 cm cube of hard cheese has as much calcium as a cup of milk. Skim milk products provide as much calcium as whole milk with the added advantage of less fat and cholesterol. Dairy products are an excellent source of calcium and are also a good source of protein.

If you are intolerant to dairy products or if you prefer to avoid dairy, there are other alternatives food sources that are high in calcium. These include:

  • Calcium-fortified soy, almond and rice beverages (check the nutrition labels)
  • Calcium-fortified orange juice (check the nutrition labels)
  • Canned salmon or canned sardines. (When you eat the bones that have been softened by the canning process, these foods are excellent sources of calcium.)
Calcium Content of Some Common FoodsPortionCalcium*
Buttermilk1 cup/250mL186 mg
Fortified orange juice1 cup/250mL300 mg
Fortified almond, rice or soy beverage1 cup/250mL300 mg**
Milk – whole, 2%, 1%, skim, chocolate1 cup/250mL300 mg***
Milk, evaporated1/2 cup/125 mL367 mg
Milk – powder, dry1/3 cup/75 mL270 mg
Yogurt – plain, 1-2% M.F.3/4 cup/175 mL332 mg
Almonds, dry roast1/2 cup/125 mL186 mg
Beans – white, canned1 cup/250 mL191 mg
Cheese – Blue, Brick, Cheddar, Edam, Gouda, Gruyere, Swiss1 ¼”/3 cm cube245 mg
Cheese – Mozzarella1 ¼”/3 cm cube200 mg
Drinkable yogurt4/5 cup/200 mL191 mg
Frozen yogurt, vanilla1 cup/250 mL218 mg
Fruit-flavoured yogurt3/4 cup/175 mL200 mg
Ice cream cone, vanilla, soft serve1232 mg
Kefir (fermented milk drink) – plain3/4 cup/175 mL187 mg
Molasses, blackstrap1 Tbsp/15 mL180 mg
Salmon, with bones – canned1/2 can/105 g240 mg
Sardines, with bones1/2 can/55 g200 mg
Soybeans, cooked1 cup/250 mL170 mg
Beans – baked, with pork, canned1 cup/250 mL129 mg
Beans – navy, soaked, drained, cooked1 cup/250 mL126 mg
Collard greens – cooked1/2 cup/125 mL133 mg
Cottage cheese, 1 or 2%1 cup/250 mL150 mg
Figs, dried10150 mg
Instant oatmeal, calcium added1 pouch/32 g150 mg
Soy flour1/2 cup/125 mL127 mg
Tofu, regular – with calcium sulfate3 oz/84 g130 mg
Beans – baked, plain1 cup/250 mL86 mg
Beans – great northern, soaked, drained, cooked1 cup/250 mL120 mg
Beans – pinto, soaked, drained, cooked1 cup/250 mL79 mg
Beet greens – cooked1/2 cup/125 mL82 mg
Bok choy, Pak-choi – cooked1/2 cup/125 mL84 mg
Bread, white2 slices106 mg
Chickpeas (garbanzo beans)1 cup/250 mL77 mg
Chili con carne, with beans – canned1 cup/250 mL84 mg
Cottage cheese – 2%, 1%1/2 cup/125 mL75 mg
Dessert tofu1/2 cup/100 g75 mg
Okra – frozen, cooked1/2 cup/125 mL89 mg
Processed cheese slices, thin1115 mg
Turnip greens – frozen, cooked1/2 cup/125 mL104 mg
Artichoke – cooked1 medium54 mg
Beans, snap – fresh or frozen, cooked1/2 cup/125 mL33 mg
Broccoli – cooked1/2 cup/125 mL33 mg
Chinese broccoli (gai lan) – cooked1/2 cup/125 mL46 mg
Dandelion greens – cooked1/2 cup/125 mL74 mg
Edamame (East Asian dish, baby soybeans in the pod)1/2 cup/125 mL52 mg
Fireweed leaves, raw1/2 cup/125 mL52 mg
Grapefruit, pink or red4346727 mg
Hummus1/2 cup/125 mL50 mg
Kale – cooked1/2 cup/125 mL49 mg
Kiwifruit126 mg
Mustard greens – cooked1/2 cup/125 mL55 mg
Orange1 medium50 mg
Parmesan cheese, grated1 Tbsp/15 mL70 mg
Rutabaga (yellow turnip) – cooked1/2 cup/125 mL43 mg
Seaweed (agar) – dried1/2 cup/125 mL35 mg
Snow peas – cooked1/2 cup/125 mL36 mg
Squash (acorn, butternut) – cooked1/2 cup/125 mL44 mg

*Approximate values.

**Added calcium may settle to the bottom of the container; shake well before drinking. ***Calcium-enriched milk – add 100 mg per serving.

The calcium in soy beverage is absorbed at the rate of 75% of milk. The calcium in some foods such as sesame seeds, rhubarb, Swiss chard and spinach is not well absorbed, because of very high oxalate content, which binds the calcium. Therefore these foods have not been included.

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