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Where Should You Get Calcium?

The ideal way to get calcium is from foods. Dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt are the obvious sources. One 8-ounce cup of low-fat, plain yogurt contains 415 mg of calcium -- more than a third of the daily recommendation for most age groups. An 8-ounce glass of nonfat milk will provide you nearly 300 mg of calcium. And 1.5 ounces of part-skim mozzarella has 333 mg.

Even if you're lactose intolerant, you can still enjoy your milk by choosing one of the lactose-free or lactose-reduced dairy products available at your local supermarket. Another option is to take lactase enzyme drops or tablets before you eat dairy.

Several non-dairy foods are also good sources of calcium, including:

Food                                                               Calcium content per serving

Calcium-fortified orange juice, 6 ounces              375 mg

Canned sardines with bones, 3 ounces                325 mg

Firm tofu made with calcium sulfate, 1/2 cup       253 mg

Canned salmon with bone, 3 ounces                   181 mg

Calcium-fortified breakfast cereal, 1 cup             100-1,000 mg

Boiled turnip greens, 1/2 cup                             99 mg

Cooked fresh kale, 1 cup                                  94 mg

Taking Calcium Supplements

If you're not getting enough calcium from food alone, your doctor might recommend a supplement.

Calcium supplements come in two main forms:

  • Calcium carbonate -- found in products such as Caltrate 600, Os-Cal 500, Viactiv Calcium Chews, and store brands
  • Calcium citrate -- found in supplements such as Citracal

Calcium carbonate is also commonly found in over-the-counter antacids, such as Rolaids and Tums.

You need to take calcium carbonate with food, because it's easier for your body to absorb that way. You can take calcium citrate on an empty stomach.

To maximize your absorption of calcium, take no more than 500 mg at a time. You might take one 500-mg supplement in the morning and another at night. If you take a supplement that also contains vitamin D, it will help your body absorb calcium more efficiently.

Avoid eating these foods when you take your supplement, because they can interfere with calcium absorption:

  • Caffeinated coffee and soda
  • High-salt foods

Calcium Supplement Side Effects

Before taking calcium supplements, you need to be aware of their side effects, which include:

  • Constipation
  • Gas or bloating
  • Kidney stones

Calcium can also decrease absorption of some medications, including osteoporosis medicines, thyroid medicines, and some antibiotics. Ask your doctor if your medicines may interact with calcium, or to be safe just don't take them at the same time. Taking calcium and vitamin D supplements with thiazide diuretics may increase the chance of kidney stones.

A June 2012 study in the journal Heart also linked calcium supplements with a greater likelihood of heart attacks. This finding may be of special concern to anyone who is already at risk for heart disease.

Experts disagree regarding who should take calcium and vitamin D supplements. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force doesn't recommend taking calcium supplements to prevent osteoporosis-related fractures in postmenopausal women because the organization says there isn't enough evidence to support a benefit. Other organizations, including the National Osteoporosis Foundation and the Institute of Medicine, recommend supplements if you're not meeting your daily calcium requirements with diet alone.

Although your bones need calcium, don't take any supplements without first talking to your doctor. Find out which form of calcium is best for you to take, how much you need each day, and what to do if you experience any side effects.

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