Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Calcium

3-minute read

Calcium is important for strong bones, as well as for the healthy functioning of nerves, muscles and heart. You can usually get enough calcium from your diet, although in some cases a supplement is needed.

What does calcium do?

You need calcium to build and maintain healthy bones. Calcium combines with other minerals, such as phosphate, in your bones to give them structure and strength. Calcium also circulates in your blood to be used by your heart, muscles and nerves.

To absorb calcium, your body needs vitamin D. Regardless of your calcium intake, if you don’t get enough vitamin D, you will have trouble absorbing calcium and keeping your bones healthy.

Good sources of calcium

The best way to get enough calcium is to make sure you include high-calcium foods in your diet such as dairy foods. Dairy foods include milk, yoghurt and cheese.

Good sources of calcium:

  • firm tofu (832mg calcium per cup)
  • canned fish (e.g. 486mg per 90g of sardines)
  • yoghurt (386mg per 200g tub)
  • milk (367mg per 250ml cup of reduced fat milk)
  • cheese (209mg per slice of reduced fat cheese)

Green leafy vegetables, nuts (such as almonds), cereals and legumes also contain calcium.

How much calcium do I need?

It’s important to get enough calcium throughout your life — but particularly in the first 20 years so your body makes strong bones. You also need to continue getting enough calcium as you get older to help slow down the bone loss that occurs as you age.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that 2 to 3 serves of dairy foods per day, as part of a healthy, balanced diet, will help most people reach the recommended dietary intake (RDI) of calcium.

Here’s how much calcium is recommended at different ages:

Children

  • 1-3 years — 500mg per day
  • 4-8 years — 700mg per day
  • 9-11 years — 1,000mg per day
  • 12-18 years — 1,300mg per day

Adult women

  • 19-50 years — 1,000 mg per day
  • 51 years and older — 1,300 mg per day

Adult men

  • 19-70 years — 1,000mg per day
  • 71 years and older — 1,300mg per day

What happens if I don’t get enough calcium?

If you don’t get enough calcium in your diet, or you can’t absorb it properly, your body takes the calcium it needs from your bones. Over time, this causes loss of bone density, which can lead to osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis causes your bones to become brittle and they are easily broken. The condition is very common in Australia, particularly in people over the age of 60.

You are most at risk of calcium deficiency and osteoporosis if you:

  • don’t get enough calcium in your diet
  • have low vitamin D levels
  • have certain medical conditions, such as coeliac or kidney disease
  • take steroids for a long time
  • eat a diet high in certain plant nutrients (phylates and oxalates)
  • consume a lot of caffeine or alcohol

Do I need calcium supplements?

It’s best to get the calcium you need from your diet if you can. However, many Australians don’t get enough, and some people need to take a calcium supplement.

It’s best to seek advice from your doctor before taking any supplements. If you’re over 50, you may want to discuss your risk of osteoporosis and whether to get your bone density tested. You can assess you bone health on the Know Your Bones website.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: December 2019


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Calcium & Bone Health – Bone Health

Calcium & Bone Health Why is calcium important? Calcium is essential for building and maintaining healthy bones throughout life

Read more on Healthy Bones Australia website

What is osteoporosis? | Jean Hailes

What is osteoporosis? Find out what you need to know about osteoporosis and bone strength. Learn the difference between osteoporosis and osteopenia.

Read more on Jean Hailes for Women's Health website

Osteoporosis — Treatment, Symptoms, & Bone Health | MSK Australia

Do you have Osteoporosis? Find out more about your musculoskeletal condition, how you can manage, and where to find support. Contact us today on 1800 263 265

Read more on Musculoskeletal Australia website

Fact Sheets – Bone Health

Fact Sheets Popular Factsheets - Calcium, Vitamin D, Exercise, Treatment Calcium and Bone Health A small amount of calcium is absorbed into the blood and used for the healthy functioning of the heart, muscles, blood and nerves

Read more on Healthy Bones Australia website

Vitamin D & Bone Health – Bone Health

Vitamin D & Bone Health Vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium from the intestine to support healthy bones

Read more on Healthy Bones Australia website

Bone markers - Lab Tests Online AU

How and why Bone Markers are used

Read more on Lab Tests Online AU website

Osteoporosis - Lab Tests Online AU

Osteoporosis is the thinning and weakening of bones, usually associated with age and often with low calcium intake.

Read more on Lab Tests Online AU website

Why do we need calcium? - Dietitians Australia

Nourishing Nutrients Why do we need calcium? Why do we need calcium? Calcium is super important for strong bones and healthy teeth

Read more on Dietitians Australia website

Calcium - Better Health Channel

If you don't have enough calcium in your diet, your bones will eventually become weak and brittle.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Calcium-boosting ideas for your diet - MyDr.com.au

The recommended daily intake of calcium for adults and teenagers varies between 1000 mg and 1300 mg, this means between 3 and 5 serves of dairy each day should provide enough calcium.

Read more on myDr website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo