Young women's version of this guide


Calcium is a mineral that helps build strong bones. Calcium is also necessary for many of your body’s functions, such as blood clotting and nerve and muscle function. During the teenage years (particularly ages 11-15), your bones are developing quickly and are storing calcium so that your skeleton will be strong later in life. Nearly half of all bone is formed during these years. It’s important that you get plenty of calcium in your diet because if the rest of the body doesn’t get the calcium it needs, it takes calcium from the only source that it has: your bones. This can lead to brittle bones later in life and broken bones or stress fractures at any time. Unfortunately, most teens actually do not get enough calcium in their diet.

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a bone disease that causes bones to become fragile and more likely to break. It develops slowly and is usually caused by a combination of genetics and too little calcium in the diet. Osteoporosis can also lead to shortened height because of collapsing spinal bones and can cause a hunched back.

How do I know if I’m at risk?

  • Several factors can put a young person at risk for developing osteoporosis. They include:
    • Being white
    • Being underweight
    • Having a family history of osteoporosis
    • Doing little or no weight-bearing exercise (ex: running or walking)
    • Not getting enough calcium in your diet
    • Smoking
    • Drinking large amounts of alcohol

Osteoporosis can be prevented. There are some risk factors that you cannot change (such as your race and your family history), but there are some you can! Eat a healthy diet, exercise on a regular basis, and don’t smoke!

How much calcium do I need?

Children and teenagers between the ages of 9 and 18 should aim for 1,300 milligrams per day, which is about 4 servings of high-calcium food or drinks. Each 8-ounce glass of milk (whether 1%, 2%, or whole) and each cup of yogurt has about 300 milligrams of calcium. Adults 19 to 50 years of age should aim for 1,000 milligrams per day.

How do I know how much calcium is in the foods I eat?

For foods that have a nutrition facts label, the amount of calcium in that food is required to be on the label.  At the bottom of the label, you will see four nutrients: Vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium  Next to calcium will be a number indicating the amount (in mg) in a serving of that product.

What foods contain calcium?

Dairy foods such as milk, yogurt, and cheese are good sources of calcium. Other surprising sources of calcium are tofu and beans. See the list of high-calcium foods at the end of this guide.

What if I’m lactose intolerant or have a milk allergy?

If you are lactose intolerant or have a milk allergy and can’t drink milk, there are plenty of other ways to get enough calcium. These include drinking fortified soy milk, fortified orange juice, almond milk or lactose-free milk (the lactase enzyme that you are missing has been added into the milk). If you are lactose intolerant, you may also take lactase enzyme tablets before eating dairy products to help digest the lactose sugar in the milk. Some people who are lactose intolerant can tolerate having small amounts of milk or other dairy products.  There are also certain cheeses, such as cheddar, that are naturally lactose-free.  If you have a milk allergy, it is important to talk with your health care provider about what you can eat or drink.

How can I get more calcium in my diet?

Here are some ideas for how you can get more calcium in your breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks:
Calcium tips

What if I just can’t get enough calcium in my diet?

It’s best to try to meet your calcium needs by having calcium-rich foods and drinks, but some teens find it hard to fit in 4 servings of high-calcium foods daily. If you don’t like dairy foods, calcium fortified juice or milk alternatives, you may need a calcium supplement. Calcium carbonate (for example, Viactiv® or a generic chewable) and calcium citrate (for example, Citracal®) are good choices. When choosing a supplement, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Most calcium supplements have between 200 and 500 milligrams of calcium. Remember, your goal is 1,300 milligrams of per day.
  • If you have to take more than one supplement per day, it is best to take them at different times of the day because your body can only absorb about 500 milligrams of calcium at a time.
  • Don’t count on getting all of your calcium from a multivitamin. Most basic multivitamin/mineral tablets have very little calcium in them.
  • Look for a calcium supplement that has vitamin D added. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium.
  • Avoid “oyster shell” or “natural source” calcium supplements. These may have lead or aluminum in them and are not recommended.
  • Know that your dietitian or health care provider will be able to support you with recommendations on what supplement will best suit your needs.
Food:Serving:Milligrams of Calcium:
Dairy Products:
Yogurt, low-fat1 cup338-448
Ricotta cheese, part-skim1/2 cup337
Milk (skim)1 cup299
Fortified soy and rice milks1 cup283-299
Milk (1%)1 cup305
Milk (whole)1 cup276
Ricotta cheese, whole1/2 cup255
Swiss cheese1 ounce252
Mozzarella cheese, part skim1 ounce222
Cheddar cheese1 ounce201
Muenster cheese1 ounce203
American cheese1 ounce296
Frozen yogurt1/2 cup103
Ice cream1/2 cup84
Pudding4 ounce container54

Protein Foods
Soybeans, cooked1 cup261
Canned salmon3 ounces241
Nasoya Tofu Plus®, firm3 ounces200
Kidney beans, canned1/2 cup44
White beans, cooked1/2 cup81
Crab, canned3 ounces77
Clams, canned and drained3 ounces55
Almonds1 oz (23 nuts)76
Sesame seeds1 tablespoon88
Collard greens, cooked1/2 cup134
Spinach, cooked1/2 cup122
Kale, cooked1/2 cup47
Broccoli, cooked1/2 cup31
Calcium-fortified orange juice1 cup349
Rhubarb, cooked1/2 cup174
Dried figs1/3 cup80
Cereals and Bars:
Raisin Bran® Cereal1 cup1000
Cream of Wheat® Hot Cereal3 Tbps, dry200
Cheerios® Cereal1 cup100
Kix® Cereal1 1/4 cup150
Nutrigrain® Cereal Bar1 bar130
If you’re concerned about calcium, here’s a tip on how to bring it up with your health care provider: How much calcium do I need?