Understand calcium and calcium targets in the Nutrient Explorer

What it is

Calcium is an essential mineral.

What it does

Calcium is the primary mineral in bones and teeth, but it also has roles in regulating muscle contractility (including the heart, skeletal muscles, and the smooth muscles surrounding blood vessels), nerve transmission, hormone secretion, and blood clotting.

Recommended intake

The recommended intake for Calcium is 1000mg per day for most younger men and women. Recommended calcium intake increases to 1200mg per day for women when they reach menopause, and for men over 70 years old.

The safe upper limit for calcium intake is 2500mg per day.

Likelihood of tracking completeness: Very high in the US and Canada, and low in many other places.

Nutrition labels in the US and Canada are required to list calcium content. So, the vast majority of American and Canadian foods in the MacroFactor database should contain calcium information, making it easy to accurately track your calcium intake with consistent food logging.

However, in the EU, Australia, and many other countries, calcium is a nutrient that is only reported on a voluntary basis. Many food manufacturers do not voluntarily list calcium content on nutrition labels, so many branded products in the MacroFactor database from outside the US and Canada lack calcium information. So, if you’d like to accurately track your calcium intake, you’ll need to make a point of mostly tracking “common foods,” which come from research-grade databases that have full nutrient reporting.

For more on when you can track using branded foods versus common foods when you’re trying to accurately monitor your intake of particular nutrients, you should check out this article.

Likelihood of insufficient intake: High

The average calcium intake in most developed counties exceeds intake targets, but there’s a lot of variability between individuals. People who consume a lot of dairy products comfortably achieve the recommended levels of calcium intake, while many people who don’t consume much (or any) dairy fail to achieve adequate calcium intake. In total, about 40% of adults in the US don’t consume enough calcium. Vegans have elevated rates of calcium insufficiency.

For more on nutrients with a greater likelihood of insufficient or excessive intake, you should check out this article.

Signs of deficiency

Acute and severe calcium deficiencies can cause numbness or tingling in the hands and feet, muscle weakness or spasms, kidney and brain damage, congestive heart failure, seizures, cataracts, and depression. Much more commonly, less severe calcium deficiencies increase the risk of osteoporosis over time.

Good sources

Dairy products are the predominant source of calcium in the diet. Many vegan dairy alternatives are also fortified with calcium. Some vegetables (most notably, green leafy vegetables) have reasonably high levels of calcium, but they also tend to contain compounds that inhibit calcium absorption.

Learn more

If you’d like to learn more about micronutrients generally, there’s a five-part series on the MacroFactor website you might enjoy.

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