Selection of calcium-rich foods including cheese, milk, sardines, nuts and beans

The best calcium-rich foods

Discover which foods are high in calcium, how much calcium you should be eating each day and the best non-dairy and vegan sources of this vital mineral.

Calcium is essential for strong teeth and bones because it gives them strength and rigidity. Our bodies contain about 1kg of this vital mineral and 99% of it is found in our bones and teeth. Most people should be able to get enough calcium through healthy eating.

Advertisement

How much calcium should we be aiming to consume each day?

Daily RNI (Reference Nutrient Intake) of calcium according to age:

  • 0-12 months (non-breastfed only) – 525mg
  • 1-3 years – 350mg
  • 4-6 years – 450mg
  • 7-10 years – 550mg
  • 11-18 years – boys – 1000mg
  • 11-18 years – girls – 800mg
  • Adults (19+) years – 700mg
  • Pregnant women – 700mg
  • Breastfeeding women – 700mg + 550mg

Which foods contain calcium and how much is in an average portion?People taking osteoporosis drug treatments may benefit from a daily calcium intake of around 1000mg. Your doctor or GP will be able to advise you on how much calcium you should eat if you have been prescribed these treatments.

Wooden board with selection of cheeses

Cheese and cheese-based dishes

Amount of calcium per average portion size:

  • 30g parmesan cheese – 300mg
  • 40g edam/gouda – 300mg
  • 60g paneer cheese – 300mg
  • 30g cheddar cheese/low-fat hard cheese – 200mg
  • 30g halloumi – 200mg
  • 80g cottage cheese – 100mg
  • 40g camembert – 100mg

Find more cheese recipes.A cheeseboard may be the most obvious serving suggestion, but dishes made with cheese also count towards your daily total, such as cheese omelettes, quiches made with cheese and egg, and dishes with cheese-based sauces like macaroni cheese or cauliflower cheese.

Milk being poured into a glass

Milk – skimmed, semi-skimmed, whole and soya

Amount of calcium per average portion size:

  • 200ml milk (skimmed/semi-skimmed/whole) – 240mg
  • 200ml soya milk (calcium fortified) – 240mg

Drink milk on its own or paired with low-sugar cereal or muesli. Milk-based drinks such as malted milk, hot chocolate or milkshakes also count, but be aware that the sugar in these can be quite high. Porridge made with milk is a good breakfast option, while rice pudding is a classic milk-based dessert.

Yogurt – plain, low-fat and soya

Amount of calcium per average portion size:

  • 125g yogurt (low-fat, plain and calcium-fortified soya) – 200mg
  • 47g ‘mini pot’ fortified fromage frais – 50mg

Find more yogurt recipes.Serve plain yogurt with fresh fruit as a dessert or snack, or make into Bircher muesli for breakfast.

Tofu – firm, soft or silken (calcium-set)

Amount of calcium per average portion size:

  • 120g tofu (steamed or fried) – 200mg

Find more tofu recipes.Tofu is an extremely versatile ingredient and makes a great addition to curries, stir fries and even cannelloni.

Sardines in colourful salad

Canned fish – sardines and salmon

Amount of calcium per average portion size:

  • 50g sardines (canned) – 200mg
  • 105g tinned pink salmon – 100mg

Find more sardine recipes.Canned fish is a useful storecupboard addition and increases your calcium intake too. Thrifty sardines are great in pasta dishes or on toast, while tinned salmon is delicious in salads or quick & easy fishcakes.

Bowl of raw broccoli

Some fruit, vegetables and pulses

Amount of calcium per average portion size:

  • 2 dried figs – 100mg
  • 200g baked beans – 85mg
  • 70g red kidney beans (canned) – 50mg
  • 90g green or French beans – 50mg
  • 95g green or white cabbage – 50mg
  • 110g broccoli (steamed) – 50mg
  • 40g watercress – 50mg
  • 400g tinned tomatoes – 50mg
  • 8 dried apricots – 50mg
  • 1 large orange – 50mg
Sesame seeds on a scoop with tahini paste in a bowl
Eating a variety of fruit and vegetables is important for good health – but the ones highlighted above can also contribute towards your daily calcium total. Try our recipes for green beans, cabbage, broccoli and tinned tomatoes.

Some nuts and seeds

Amount of calcium per average portion size:

  • 1 heaped tsp tahini (sesame paste) – 100mg
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds – 100mg
  • 10 whole almonds – 50mg
  • 9 whole Brazil nuts – 50mg

Find out more about the health benefits of nuts.Certain nuts and seeds are a good source of calcium and they’re easy to incorporate into your diet, too. Mix tahini into yogurt or hummus for a delicious dressing or try making your own almond butter.

Pita breads on a chopping board

Some carbohydrates – bread, pasta, rice

Amount of calcium per average portion size:

  • 75g white pitta bread – 100mg
  • 43g plain naan bread – 80mg
  • 1 medium slice white bread – 50mg
  • 1 thick slice wholemeal bread – 50mg
  • 230g cooked pasta, boiled – 50mg

Look through our healthy pasta and healthy sandwich recipes.You might be surprised to discover that bread is fortified with calcium, so even toast can contribute towards your intake along with other calcium-rich foods.

What are the best sources of calcium for vegans or people with a dairy intolerance?

If you don’t eat dairy products, you will need to include lots of other calcium-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, almonds, sesame seeds, dried fruit, pulses, fortified soya drinks and soya protein (tofu) in your diet. A vegetarian diet is not a risk factor for osteoporosis, and vegetarians and vegans do not appear to have poorer bone health than the rest of the population.

If you are lactose intolerant, make sure you enjoy plenty of non-dairy calcium-rich foods such as pilchards, sardines, curly kale, watercress, sesame seeds and tahini (sesame seed spread). You could also choose fortified foods, such as mineral water, soya milk or bread with added calcium. Check the label on the packet to see how much calcium has been added to each portion.

A note on vitamin D

You need vitamin D to help your body absorb calcium. You can get vitamin D through sunlight exposure, from certain foods and drinks or from dietary supplements. Try to get short periods (about 10 minutes) of sun exposure to your bare skin, once or twice a day, between late March and the end of September, without sunscreen (but taking care not to burn). A UK government advisory committee has recommended that, in addition to sensible sunlight exposure, everyone over 1 year of age should get 10 micrograms (10 μg) of vitamin D every day (8.5-10 micrograms for all infants under 1 year). Talk to your doctor if you are concerned that you aren’t getting enough vitamin D or if you are considering taking a supplement.

There’s debate around whether dairy makes the body too ‘acidic’ and actually leeches calcium from bones. Is there any truth to this?

There is no good evidence for this. The argument is that too much protein or grain foods creates high ‘acidity’ in the bloodstream and that this results in calcium being ‘leeched from the bones’ to balance things out, causing osteoporosis and fractures. To avoid this problem, it is claimed we need an ‘alkaline diet’, which means we should eliminate foods such as dairy products. Although there is some truth in the process that they describe, the current expert consensus is that a well-balanced healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables should ensure the acidity/alkalinity balance is maintained.  Eliminating whole groups of foods isn’t necessary, and in fact risks cutting out essential nutrients for bone health.

Now read…

What is osteoporosis and what affects bone density?
Am I at risk of calcium deficiency?
Am I getting enough vitamin D?
More health & nutrition tips


This article was last reviewed on 4th December 2018 by Kerry Torrens.

The information was supplied by Sarah Leyland, Osteoporosis Nurse Consultant at the National Osteoporosis Society in collaboration with the NOS’s expert clinical and scientific advisors. It has been reviewed by Professor Susan Lanham New, Professor of Nutrition at the University of Surrey.

The National Osteoporosis Society are a UK-wide charity dedicated to ending the pain and suffering caused by osteoporosis. You can find out more information by visiting their website.

Kerry Torrens is a qualified Nutritionist (MBANT) with a post graduate diploma in Personalised Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She is a member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and a member of the Guild of Food Writers. Over the last 15 years she has been a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food.

Advertisement

All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.