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Your Calcium Needs

Author: be well™ with Big Y® Registered Dietitian Team

Calcium is a popular nutrient- but do you know its role in your body, as well as the nutrients it pairs with to give your bones the most strength they can get? Learn more below!

Calcium’s Role in the Body

Calcium is a very important mineral in your body. Your bones store calcium, which gives them strength. Your muscles, including your heart, use calcium to contract. Calcium is also part of your nerves and helps your blood clot when you have a cut. In addition, calcium in your blood helps serve as a buffer to other minerals, like sodium. If your body’s calcium needs over shoot the supply from the foods you eat, stored calcium in your bones’ strength will be tapped.

Growing Up with Calcium

Your calcium intake is important throughout your life- both during child- and adulthood. Early in life, you build bones by laying down bone cells, similar to a masonry building a wall. Calcium works as the cement filling in the cell grooves of the bones. This is why sufficient calcium through childhood is essential. While growing, if you do not have plenty of calcium to fill in the grooves, just like a brick wall without cement, your bones will not be able to reach their potential. 

By the time you reach your late twenties, bone growth and strengthening hits its peak. From that point on, maintaining bone strength with adequate calcium intake becomes imperative. If calcium intake drops, your bones become the calcium “bank” to pay for the deficiency. Just as removing small bits of cement from a brick wall for years will cause the wall to weaken and eventually break, so does constant lack of calcium from your meal plan to your bones. This leaching of calcium then increases your risk for developing brittle, weak bones or osteoporosis as you age.

What is Osteoporosis? 

Osteoporosis is a silent disease of decreased bone density that can lead to painful changes in posture and bone fractures. Those at greatest risk of having weak bones later in life are Asian and Caucasian female smokers with smaller frames and a family history of the disease. If you are an underweight female over the age of 55 that is inactive and drinks alcoholic beverages heavily, you are at greater risk as well.

Preventing Osteoporosis

For osteoporosis, prevention is your greatest defense. Nutrition and lifestyle behaviors are the tools of protection. Lifestyle behaviors like not smoking or drinking excessively, participating in weight-bearing activities (e.g.: lifting weights, walking, running, etc.), and staying well-nourished help maintain bone strength.

Maintaining Bone Health with Nutrition

Foods that help maintain bone health contain not only calcium, but also vitamins D and K. Following a low sodium meal plan helps as well, since calcium acts as a buffer when too much sodium is consumed.

Systemic Lupus

Calcium-Rich Foods

Foods providing calcium include those from the Dairy Food Group such as milk, yogurt, cheese and fortified, non-dairy sources of calcium such as breads and cereals, soy milk and juices. Other calcium-containing foods are canned fish with bones (sardines, salmon), green leafy vegetables and tofu.

Cutaneous Lupus

Vitamin D-Rich Foods

Vitamin D is typically found in dairy foods and may be found fortified in soy milk and juices. Additional daily supplementation with vitamin D is often recommended to meet daily needs, especially for those of us in the New England region. Speak to your healthcare provider to learn if supplementation is right for you.


Vitamin K-Rich Foods

Vitamin K is abundant in fruits and vegetables, so make sure to include a serving of each at every eating occasion. Top sources for vegetables include dark leafy greens like collards, kale, broccoli and spinach. For fruits, be sure to enjoy canned pumpkin, pomegranate juice, blueberries, grapes and figs.1

Neonatal Lupus

Low-Sodium Foods

Incorporate low-sodium foods into your meal plan. Choose frozen vegetables without sauces or flavoring, shop for the lowest sodium-containing options available for canned sauces, soups, cooking stocks, breads and frozen meals as well.

1  National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Vitamin K: fact sheet for health professionals. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminK-HealthProfessional/. Accessed 5/8/2023.

Published 6/5/2023