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.

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

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.

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

AgeDaily RNI (Reference Nutrient Intake)
0-12 months (non-breastfed only)525mg
1-3 years350mg
4-6 years450mg
7-10 years550mg
11-18 years – boys1000mg
11-18 years – girls800mg
Adults (19+) years700mg
Pregnant women700mg
Breastfeeding women700mg + 550mg

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.

Which foods contain calcium and how much is in an average portion?

Wooden board with selection of cheeses

Cheese and cheese-based dishes 

Average portion sizeCalcium
30g Parmesan cheese300mg
40g Edam/Gouda300mg
60g paneer cheese300mg
30g cheddar cheese/low-fat hard cheese200mg
35g halloumi200mg
80g cottage cheese100mg
40g Camembert100mg

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.

Find more cheese recipes.

Milk being poured into a glass

Milk – skimmed, semi-skimmed, whole and soya

Average portion sizeCalcium
200ml milk (skimmed/semi-skimmed/whole)200mg
200ml soya milk (calcium fortified)200mg

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.

Pot of berry bircher muesli with yogurt

Yogurt – plain, low-fat and soya

Average portion sizeCalcium
125g yogurt (low-fat, plain and calcium-fortified soya)200mg
47g 'mini pot' fortified fromage frais50mg

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

Find more yogurt recipes.

Grilled tofu with noodles and vegetables in bowl

Tofu – firm, soft or silken

Average portion sizeCalcium
120g tofu (steamed or fried)200mg

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

Find more tofu recipes.

Sardines in colourful salad

Canned fish – sardines and salmon

Average portion sizeCalcium
50g sardines (canned)200mg
105g tinned pink salmon100mg

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.

Find more sardine recipes.

Bowl of raw broccoli

Some fruit, vegetables and pulses

Average portion sizeCalcium
2 dried figs100mg
200g baked beans100mg
70g red kidney beans50mg
90g green or French beans50mg
95g green or white cabbage50mg
110g broccoli (steamed)50mg
40g watercress50mg
400g tinned tomatoes50mg
8 dried apricots50mg
1 large orange50mg

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.

Sesame seeds on a scoop with tahini paste in a bowl

Some nuts and seeds

Average portion sizeCalcium
1 heaped tsp tahini (sesame paste)100mg
1 tbsp sesame seeds100mg
10 whole almonds50mg
9 whole Brazil nuts50mg

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 houmous for a delicious dressing or try making your own almond butter.

Find out more about the health benefits of nuts.

Pita breads on a chopping board

Some carbohydrates – bread, pasta, rice

Average portion sizeCalcium
75g white pitta bread100mg
43g plain naan bread100mg
1 medium slice white bread50mg
1 thick slice wholemeal bread50mg
230g cooked pasta, boiled50mg
10 heaped tbsp basmati rice, boiled50mg

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.

Look through our healthy pasta and healthy sandwich recipes

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 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 published on 10 May 2017.

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.

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.

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