Our bodies work on the “What’s Important Now” principle, so if you didn’t have enough calcium today, your body will extract what it needs from your bones. This will keep your heart and muscles functioning for today, and perhaps even several more years, if necessary, but it is not a good long-term system. Eventually, your bones will become fragile, increasing your risk of fracture.
So how much calcium do you need daily to keep your heart and muscles healthy today and your bones strong for decades to come? The answer varies, depending on how old you are and whether you are male or female.
Babies (Birth to 1 year old)
From birth until six months of age, babies need 200 mg of calcium a day. The typical newborn diet of breast milk or formula is guaranteed to provide the correct levels to keep your baby healthy.
Your baby will need slightly more calcium – 260 mg – from the age of six months, around the time you introduce solids. A small daily serving of full-cream yogurt or cheese, along with the usual breast-milk or formula, is enough to supply the extra calcium.
Toddlers (1 – 3 years old)
Once kids start walking, their calcium requirements jump to 500 mg in order to give them the nutrients they need to grow and stay active. A glass of full-cream milk and a serving of cheese will provide almost enough calcium. Add some calcium-rich vegetables, such as broccoli, or a slice of calcium-fortified bread, and your toddler has all the calcium he or she needs.
Children (4 – 8 years old)
Active growing children need 1000 mg of calcium per day. This equates to three servings of dairy (milk, cheese and yogurt) each day. Alternately, you could swap one serving of dairy for two servings of calcium-rich vegetables, or for a glass of calcium-fortified orange juice.
Tweens and Teens (9 – 18 years old)
Growing into adulthood requires 1300 mg of calcium a day. Rather than pushing your child to drink six glasses of milk a day, look at some other sources of calcium, such as salmon, nuts, leafy green vegetables, tofu and fortified breakfast cereal.
Adults (19 – 50 years old)
Once you’re fully grown, you can drop back down to 1000 mg a day. Women should be especially careful to always meet the calcium target because, after menopause, their bones will no longer be able to absorb calcium. So rather than let your body “borrow” calcium from your bones, try “saving” some extra supplies for later!
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, increase your intake to 1300 mg a day. If you have trouble reaching a healthy target, take a calcium supplement.
Remember, as vital as calcium is, you don’t want to exceed 2500 mg a day. Excessive calcium levels will cause constipation and bloating and can increase your risk of kidney stones. Also, excess calcium can also interfere with your iron absorption, leading to anemia.
Women over 50 years old
Once you’ve reached menopause, your bones can no longer absorb calcium, but your body will borrow supplies when necessary. Increase your daily intake to 1300 mg to ensure you have enough calcium to maintain your health without compromising your bone density.
Men over 50 years old
Between the ages of 50 and 70, you should maintain a calcium intake of 1000 mg, as your bones will continue to absorb extra calcium. However, as you age, your gut will have difficulty absorbing calcium into your system, so you should increase your intake to 1300 mg by the time you reach your 70s.