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New Recommendations Address Evolving Calcium Needs  

By Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD

A 14-member expert committee convened by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies has issued new recommendations for dietary intake of vitamin D and calcium. While vitamin D got most of the press, it’s important to note the changes in calcium recommendations, too. You may be surprised to learn that recommended calcium intake actually decreased for one group of people.

Growing bones need calcium

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) panel increased calcium recommendations from 500 mg per day to 700 mg per day for children one to three years old. This may not seem like much, but it represents a 40% increase in the recommended intake for this age group. For children four to eight years old, the calcium recommendation was raised from 800 mg per day to 1,000 mg per day, which is a 20% increase.

Calcium conundrum

One of the most important changes to the calcium recommendations came for men over 50. In this case, the IOM opted to lower recommended intakes from 1,200 mg per day to 1,000 mg per day. Why would older men need less calcium?

For men, the difference between enough and too much calcium is less than previously thought. Some studies suggest excessive calcium may increase prostate cancer risk, and others point to increased risk of calcium deposits in soft tissues, such as the blood vessels and kidneys, and more heart disease with higher calcium intakes.

Quantifying calcium

The safe upper limits for calcium range from 1,000 mg per day for young infants, to 2,000 mg per day for men and women over age 50, and up to 3,000 mg per day for children age 9 to 18 years and for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Though these are big numbers, between dairy products and fortified foods and beverages it’s easy to exceed them if you’re not careful. The following tips will guide you toward getting enough calcium for good health, without overdoing it.

  • Consider dairy. If you are a dairy lover, you may get all the calcium you need from food. An 8-ounce serving of milk or yogurt provides about a third of recommended intake—around 300 to 400 mg—for most people.
  • Forgo fortification. If you are eating 3 or more servings of dairy per day, skip the calcium-fortified cereals, juices, and snack bars. You don’t need the extra calcium from these sources. This is especially true for some fortified cereals, which can provide 1,000 mg of calcium in a single serving.
  • Go green. If dairy isn’t on your regular menu, aim to get more calcium from green leafy vegetables, such as collard greens, spinach, kale, chard, and broccoli. A 1-cup serving of cooked collard greens provides 360 mg of calcium.
  • Supplement with savvy. If you aren’t getting much calcium from dairy or green leafy vegetables, ask your doctor to recommend a dietary supplement that will provide the proper amount and type of calcium you need.
  • Manage medications. Some medications contain calcium, which may count toward meeting your daily calcium needs. Other medications can decrease calcium absorption or lower the amount of calcium in the body. To be on the safe side, always tell your doctor about any medications and dietary supplements you are taking.

(The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. “Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D.” Available at: Accessed December 6, 2010.)

Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, an author, speaker, and internationally recognized expert in chronic disease prevention, epidemiology, and nutrition, has taught medical, nursing, public health, and alternative medicine coursework. She has delivered over 150 invited lectures to health professionals and consumers and is the creator of a nutrition website acclaimed by the New York Times and Time magazine. Suzanne received her training in epidemiology and nutrition at the University of Michigan, School of Public Health at Ann Arbor.

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