Maintaining strong bones isn’t the *only* reason you need calcium.
Calcium is one of the most well-known nutrients in the human diet. It is, after all, the most abundant mineral in the body. Even someone who doesn’t know much a ton about nutrition can probably tell you that calcium is important—and that it helps with bone health.
But the reason *why* calcium helps your bones is much more complex (and pretty fascinating).
Why You Need Calcium
Calcium is primarily stored in your bones. That’s because the bone’s use calcium for remodeling. This is the process of resorbing old bone tissue and depositing new bone tissue. Calcium is what makes that new bone tissue, so it’s no surprise that 99 percent of calcium in your body is found in the bones.
What about the remaining 1 percent? It turns out, calcium does more than just help your bones. A small part of it goes toward helping with muscle function, hormone secretion, expanding and constricting blood vessels, and more.
What Happens If You Don’t Get Enough?
So here’s where it gets tricky: If your body doesn’t get enough calcium to carry out those other functions, it will steal calcium from the bones. The body has incredible ways of adapting to continue its most necessary functions.
However, those adaptations can come at a cost. In this case, leaching calcium from the bones can wither bone mass over time. This increases the risk of fractures and osteoporosis. (Learn more here about reducing your risk of osteoporosis.)
Good Sources of Calcium
The most famous source of calcium is, of course, dairy. It’s not that cow’s milk just naturally has calcium in it: It’s because cows eat grass, which is a rich source of calcium. This gets passed on through their milk, resulting in calcium-rich dairy.
But you can also “eat like a cow” and get calcium from dark, leafy greens. Instead of grass, you can enjoy high-calcium greens like kale, broccoli, bok choy, turnip greens, chard, and so on. (Here are more dairy-free sources of calcium.)
Other options include fish with soft, edible bones, like sardines. Those edible bones are rich with calcium. Additionally, fortified foods with plant-based milks (which often have more calcium than cow’s milk) and breakfast cereals can be a great way to boost your calcium intake.
While dairy products are a “powerhouse” of calcium, experts recommend getting calcium from a wide variety of foods. That’s because leafy greens or even breakfast cereals have micronutrients that also support bone health, such as magnesium and vitamin K.
Wondering if your diet is bone-friendly? Talk to a dietitian for tips. (Find out what to expect at your first appointment with a dietitian here.)
- Calcium. Washington, DC: MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. (Accessed on July 9, 2020)
- Calcium and vitamin D: important at every age. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. (Accessed on July 9, 2020)
- Calcium: fact sheet for health professionals. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. (Accessed on July 9, 2020)
- Nutrients for bone health. Raleigh, NC: American Bone Health, 2017. (Accessed on July 9, 2020)