Key points about calcium

  • Calcium is vital for healthy bones and teeth. 
  • It is also important for muscle and nerve activity in your body, including for your heartbeat. 
  • A lack of calcium can lead to rickets in children or osteoporosis in older adults
  • Calcium from food is the best source.
  • If you're vegan or can't have dairy products, there are plenty of non-dairy foods which are rich sources of calcium.
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Calcium is a mineral. It's vital for developing and maintaining healthy bones and teeth. It's also important for muscle and nerve activity in your body, including for your heartbeat.

Everyone needs calcium in their diet. The amount of calcium you need changes at different stages in your life. In your teenage years, more calcium is needed because your bones are growing quickly. At an older age, your body finds it harder to absorb calcium, which is one of the reasons older adults also need more calcium. 

Calcium is stored in your bones

Your skeleton contains 99% of your body’s calcium. Calcium is deposited in your bones until your mid-20s. 

  • Your bone mass increases by about 7-fold from birth to puberty and a further 3-fold during adolescence.
  • It then remains stable until about age 50 in men or until women reach menopause. 
  • You maintain your blood levels of calcium by taking it from your bones. 
  • In other words, your bones serve as a ‘bank’ and later in life you draw calcium out to meet your needs. 

Calcium is particularly important in children and young people because their bones are growing rapidly, and in older men and women as their stored calcium can become depleted. 

At menopause, women will experience a decline in calcium absorption and/or an increase in calcium excretion – putting them at increased risk of osteoporosis and bone fracture. Weight-bearing exercise and vitamin D (which helps your body to absorb calcium from your diet) also help to maintain bone strength. 

Calcium deficiency

Calcium deficiency in children will stunt growth and result in poor quality teeth and bones and an increased risk of fractures. Adults will experience aches and pains, lose height and develop brittle bones (osteoporosis).

Recommended dietary intake (RDI) for calcium for NZ and Australia


9–13 years

 1000–1300 mg/day


14–18 years

1300 mg/day


19–70 years

1000 mg/day

Elderly men

70+ years

1300 mg/day


19–50 years

1000 mg/day

Older women

50–70+ years

1300 mg/day

*Note the requirements for pregnancy and breastfeeding are not increased above the requirements for women who are not pregnant or breastfeeding. 

Source: Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand Including Recommended Dietary Intakes(external link)

Calcium is only found in certain food groups

  • Dairy foods and seafood-based food have the highest amount of calcium, and this is more readily absorbed than plant, cereal or bread based calcium. 
  • A 250ml glass of milk contains about 300mg calcium and there are also higher-calcium versions available. Low-fat milk options are better sources of calcium than standard milk.
  • In non-dairy options, soy and other milks are usually fortified with calcium – check the product label.
  • Calcium is also found in other foods, eg, dark green leafy vegetables, almonds, sardines, salmon with bones, tofu.

Sources of non-dairy calcium

Dark, leafy, green vegetables

Eating these is good for your general health but dark, leafy greens (eg, kale, spinach, cabbage, broccoli and bok choy) are also high in calcium.

Nuts and seeds

Out of all the nuts, almonds are up there with the highest amount of calcium. They are also a good source of magnesium and vitamin E. Seeds such as poppy, chia, hemp and sesame are high in calcium and easy to sprinkle onto breakfast food and salads and into smoothies.

Canned salmon and sardines

These are a great source of calcium due to their soft, edible bones. Oily fish are also a great source of omega 3 fatty acids, which are great for your brain, heart and skin.

Dried figs

These are high in fibre and have more calcium than other dried fruits. Take care not to eat too much dried fruit as it’s high in sugar.

Soy, almond, rice and oat milk

These are an increasingly popular alternative to cow’s milk. You can buy them calcium-fortified to ensure you're getting a good amount of calcium.


Tofu is made from soybeans and is high in calcium. You can also buy tofu that has been fortified with calcium, so has even higher levels. Edamame (soy beans) are also high in calcium.

Beans and lentils

Not only are beans and lentils good for you, they’re also a good source of calcium. Winged beans (a tropical legume native to New Guinea) provide the most calcium, followed closely by white beans.

Fortified foods

Some cereals, oats, breads and other food have calcium added. Check the label to see if they do, as this can help boost your calcium levels.

Calcium content of different foods

Food or drink Serving size Calcium content
Fortified milk (Anchor Xtra, Mega Calci-strong, Calci-trim)

250ml (1 cup) 450mg

Reduced fat milk 250ml 350mg
Standard milk 250ml 290mg
Soy and rice-based milk 250ml 325mg
Fortified yoghurt 150g 366mg
Edam cheese 16g 246mg
Processed cheese 1 slice 55mg
Colby or Cheddar cheese 16g 120mg
Sardines 2 sardines 110mg
Mussels 6 mussels 136mg
Salmon ½ cup 110mg
Tofu ½ cup 137mg
Baked beans ½ can 90mg
Chickpeas ½ cup 55mg
Taro leaves ½ cup cooked 120mg
Spinach, silverbeet, leeks, Chinese cabbage ½ cup cooked 45mg
Taro ½ cup cooked 41mg
Rhubarb ½ cup cooked 123mg
Fortified bread 2 sandwich slices 177mg
White, whole grain/meal bread 2 sandwich slices 80mg
Almonds 150g 300mg

Easy ways to increase your calcium intake

  • Select reduced-fat varieties of dairy foods.
  • Have small amounts of raw, unsalted almonds as a healthy snack.
  • Make a green leafy salad with 45g tinned salmon as a quick lunch.
  • Have a pottle of low-fat, low-sugar yoghurt for a calcium-filled afternoon tea.
  • Drink a glass of milk with your breakfast or lunch.
  • Try adding some of the calcium-rich foods from the table above to your meals.

Although getting calcium from your diet is preferred, sometimes when there is not enough calcium in your diet for your body's needs then taking calcium supplements may be necessary.

Calcium supplements can interfere with the way your body absorbs other medicines so you may need to take these at a different time to your calcium – ask your pharmacist for advice. 

Menopause and calcium supplements

At menopause women will experience a decline in calcium absorption and/or an increase in calcium excretion, putting them at increased risk of osteoporosis and bone fracture. Read more about osteoporosis.

The Nutritional Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand say that in postmenopausal women a high calcium intake will slow the rate of bone loss and may reduce the risk of fracture. However, it is not proven that getting your calcium from supplements will have this effect. Recent studies have begun to show there may be an upward trend in heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems in postmenopausal women and older men taking calcium supplements.

You need calcium for healthy bones and teeth, but it may be safest to get yours from what you eat and drink, rather than from taking a supplement. Calcium supplementation remains an area of controversy, so it's recommended that you talk about it with your healthcare provider. 

Read more about calcium supplements.

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Credits: Auckland District Health Board factsheet and Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

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