Do You Get Enough Vitamin D and Calcium?

Medically Reviewed by David Kiefer, MD on January 11, 2016
3 min read

Vitamin D and calcium can be your best friends if you want to keep your bones healthy. Get the right amount and you'll be less likely to break one or get a bone-weakening disease called osteoporosis.

To figure out how much vitamin D is right for you, you need to get familiar with something called an "international unit," or IU for short. That's how vitamin D is measured.

The Institute of Medicine, a nonprofit organization that gives expert advice on health, recommends that adults age 19 to 70 get 600 IU a day. If you're older than 70, you need 800 IU a day.

For calcium, the amount you need depends on your age and sex.

  • All adults 19-50: 1,000 milligrams
  • Adult men 51-70: 1,000 milligrams
  • Adult women 51-70: 1,200 milligrams
  • All adults 71 and older: 1,200 milligrams
  • Pregnant/breastfeeding women: 1,000 milligrams
  • Pregnant teens: 1,300 milligrams

You can load up on calcium from a lot of different kinds of food. For example, add some dairy to your diet, such as milk, cheese, and yogurt. Or try veggies like broccoli, kale, and Chinese cabbage.

Some foods, like orange juice or cereal, are "calcium-fortified," which means the nutrient is added in by the manufacturer before you buy it.

Want a simple plan to get the recommended 1,000 milligrams a day? You can do it if you eat a packet of fortified oatmeal, a cup of fortified orange juice, a cup of yogurt, and half a cup of cooked spinach.

You have a lot of food choices to get the vitamin D you need. Try things like:

  • Salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, and shrimp
  • Egg yolks
  • Beef liver
  • Mushrooms
  • Cod and fish liver oils
  • Food with added vitamin D, such as milk and some cereals, yogurts, and orange juice

It's not hard to reach your daily goal. You can get more than a day's recommended amount if you eat just one small can of pink salmon.

Another source of the nutrient is the sun. Your body makes it from sunlight. But you need to wear sunscreen to protect your skin, and that blocks your body from making vitamin D. Also, it can be hard to make enough from the winter sun, depending on where you live.

If you're not getting all the vitamin D and calcium you need from food, talk with your doctor about taking a multivitamin or supplements, says JoAnn Manson, MD, DrPH, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Getting more than you need isn't always better, Manson says. It's possible to get too much of the nutrients, usually when you overdo supplements. You can't get too much vitamin D from sunshine, and it's not likely you'd get too much from food.

Too much calcium from supplements can lead to kidney stones. And you may be more likely to have a heart attack and other heart problems, though that's not certain.

If you get too much vitamin D, it can upset your stomach, make you constipated, and lead to weakness.

Some doctors routinely check vitamin D levels. Others don't. If you're concerned that you might be running low, you could ask your doctor for a blood test.

People with certain health conditions like inflammatory bowel disease are at higher risk for having low vitamin D. So are those who don't get outdoors much, have darker skin, don't take supplements, and don't eat foods rich in vitamin D.

If the test shows that your vitamin D blood level is low, your doctor may recommend supplements.