— U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Updated on Oct 14, 2009

What is calcium?

Calcium is a mineral your body needs to help build strong bones and healthy teeth.  Low-fat and fat-free milk and dairy products are especially good sources of calcium.

Why is calcium important for strong bones and teeth?

If you get enough calcium from the foods you eat and drink, your body doesn’t have to take the calcium from your bones and bones can stay strong.  In fact, getting enough calcium when you're young can help prevent osteoporosis, a condition that makes bones weak and more likely to break.

Calcium also can help build strong teeth.  Both baby teeth and adult teeth need calcium to grow and develop.  Calcium can also help protect teeth against tooth decay.  Calcium also helps make gums healthy and makes jawbones strong too. 

How much calcium do kids need?

Visit the How much calcium do kids need? section of the Milk Matters web site to see a chart about calcium needs for different age groups.

What are good sources of calcium?

Calcium is found in a variety of foods.  Low-fat and fat-free milk and other dairy products are great sources of calcium because of they have so much of it.

Tweens and teens can get most of their daily calcium from 3 cups of low-fat or fat-free milk, but they also need additional servings of calcium to get the 1,300 mg necessary for strong bones. 

Other reasons low-fat and fat-free milk and dairy products are great sources of calcium include:

  • Low-fat and fat-free milk has lots of calcium with little or no fat.
  • The calcium in low-fat and fat-free milk and dairy products is easy for the body to absorb and in a form that gives the body easy access to the calcium
  • Low-fat and fat-free milk has added vitamin D, which is important for helping your body better absorb calcium.
  • In addition to calcium, milk and dairy products provide other essential nutrients that are important for optimal bone health and development.

In addition to low-fat and fat-free milk and dairy products, there are other good sources of calcium, including:

  • Dark green, leafy vegetables, such as spinach, broccoli, and bok choy
  • Foods with calcium added, such as calcium-fortified tofu, orange juice, soy beverages, and breakfast cereals or breads

Food labels can tell you how much calcium is in one serving of food. Look at the % Daily Value (% DV) next to the calcium number on the food label. For more information, go to How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts

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