Building Stronger Bones: Calcium

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By the end of this lesson you will:

  • List the importance of Calcium.
  • Define Osteoporosis.
  • Identify foods with calcium from My Pyramid.
  • Utilize food labels to identify the amount of calcium provided.
  • Identify how much calcium you need.

What is Calcium?

Calcium is the mineral in your body that makes up your bones and keeps them strong. Ninety-nine percent of the calcium in your body is stored in your bones and teeth. The remaining 1% is in your blood and soft tissues and is essential for life and health. Without this 1% of calcium, your muscles wouldn’t work correctly, your blood wouldn’t clot and your nerves wouldn’t carry messages.

activity 1

1. List two reasons why you think calcium is important for you or your child.

Why do we need Calcium in our diets?

Calcium plays a critical role in building strong and healthy bones.  It is also essential for bone and teeth development and maintenance, muscle contraction and nerve transmission.  A deficiency can lead to heart palpitations, muscle cramps, and tooth/bone weakening. 

Did you know that you have 206 bones in your body?  Did you know that all 206 bones are alive?  They are living tissue, not permanent, hard rods.  Just like our hair, skin and blood, our bones are constantly breaking down and rebuilding.  Without a sufficient amount of calcium in our bones, we are at risk for a serious bone disease, osteoporosis.


What is Osteoporosis?

"Osteo" is Latin for "bone", "porosis" means "porous" or "full of holes". So, putting these two together we have "osteoporosis" which means "porous bones or bones full of holes".  Porous bones are brittle and can break easily.

Osteoporosis is a painful disease, which can cause bones to break and deform the body.

Osteoporosis Statistics:

Osteoporosis is a major public health threat for more than 28 million Americans, 80 percent of whom are women. In the U.S. today, 10 million individuals already have the disease and 18 million more have low bone mass, placing them at increased risk for osteoporosis.

  • 80% of those affected by osteoporosis are women.
  • 8 million American women and 2 million men have osteoporosis, and millions more have low bone density.
  • One out of two women and one in eight men over age 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime.
  • While osteoporosis is often thought of as an older person's disease, it can strike at any age.
  • Osteoporosis is responsible for more than 1.5 million fractures annually.

Osteoporosis is often called the "silent disease" because bone loss occurs without symptoms. People may not know that they have osteoporosis until their bones become so weak that a sudden strain, bump, or fall causes a fracture or a vertebra to collapse. Collapsed vertebrae may initially be felt or seen in the form of severe back pain, loss of height, or spinal deformities such as stooped posture.

Risk Factors

Certain people are more likely to develop osteoporosis than others. Factors that increase the likelihood of developing osteoporosis are called "risk factors." The following risk factors have been identified:

  • Being female 
  • Thin and/or small frame 
  • Advanced age 
  • A family history of osteoporosis 
  • Post menopause
  • Abnormal absence of menstrual periods (amenorrhea) 
  • Anorexia nervosa or bulimia 
  • A diet low in calcium 
  • Use of certain medications, such as corticosteroids and anticonvulsants 
  • Low testosterone levels in men 
  • An inactive lifestyle 
  • Cigarette smoking 
  • Excessive use of alcohol 
  • Being Caucasian or Asian, although African Americans and Hispanic Americans are at significant risk as well 

Women can lose up to 20% of their bone mass in the 5-7 years following menopause, making them more susceptible to osteoporosis. 


Specialized tests called bone density tests can measure bone density in various sites of the body. A bone density test can: 

  • Detect osteoporosis before a fracture occurs 
  • Predict your chances of fracturing in the future
  • Determine your rate of bone loss and/or monitor the effects of treatment if the test is conducted at intervals of a year or more


By about age 20, the average woman has acquired 98% of her skeletal mass. Building strong bones during childhood and adolescence can be the best defense against developing osteoporosis later. There are four steps to prevent osteoporosis. No one step alone is enough to prevent osteoporosis but all four may. They are:

  • A balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D 
  • Weight-bearing exercise 
  • A healthy lifestyle with no smoking and limited alcohol intake 
  • Bone density testing and medication, when appropriate
dairy products

Calcium is one of the best life-long defenses against osteoporosis!   

How do I get Calcium in my bones?

By eating calcium rich foods we can put calcium back in our bones!  The most readily available source of calcium in our food supply comes from milk and foods made with milk. Because these dairy products are one of the easiest way to meet your calcium needs, the food pyramid recommends 2-3 servings from the Milk, Yogurt and Cheese Group every day.  Children ages 9-18 need even more (4 servings) since their bones are still growing.

Vitamin D. Vitamin D plays an important role in calcium absorption and in bone health. It is made in the skin through exposure to sunlight.

Can I only receive Calcium from dairy products? 

You can certainly obtain calcium from non-dairy products.  A lot of foods are now fortified with calcium.  Fortified means 'to strengthen or enrich'.  For example you can now buy 'V-8' juice fortified with 30% calcium along with fortified orange juice. Dark green leafy vegetables and beans contain calcium. There are other food groups that contain calcium. (See below)

Click here to receive more information about Lactose Intolerance

Food Sources of Calcium

Food Sources of Calcium ranked from highest to lowest amounts of calcium; also calories.
Food, Standard Amount Calcium (mg) Calories
Plain yogurt, non-fat (1 cup), ( 8-oz container) 452 127
Romano cheese, 1.5 oz 452 165
Pasteurized process Swiss cheese, 2 oz 438 190
Plain yogurt, low-fat (1 cup), ( 8-oz container) 415 143
Fruit yogurt, low-fat (1 cup), (8-oz container) 345 232
Swiss cheese, 1.5 oz 336 162
Ricotta cheese, part skim, ½ cup 335 170
Pasteurized process American cheese food, 2 oz 323 188
Provolone cheese, 1.5 oz 321 150
Mozzarella cheese, part-skim, 1.5 oz 311 129
Cheddar cheese, 1.5 oz 307 171
Fat-free (skim) milk, 1 cup 306 83
Muenster cheese, 1.5 oz 305 156
1% low-fat milk, 1 cup 290 102
Low-fat chocolate milk (1%), 1 cup 288 158
2% reduced fat milk, 1 cup 285 122
Reduced fat chocolate milk (2%), 1 cup 285 180
Buttermilk, low-fat, 1 cup 284 98
Chocolate milk, 1 cup 280 208
Whole milk, 1 cup 276 146
Yogurt, plain, whole milk (1 cup), ( 8-oz container) 275 138
Ricotta cheese, whole milk, ½ cup 255 214
Blue cheese, 1.5 oz 225 150
Mozzarella cheese, whole milk, 1.5 oz 215 128
Feta cheese, 1.5 oz 210 113

Source: Nutrient values from Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 17. Foods are from ARS single nutrient reports, sorted in descending order by nutrient content in terms of common household measures. Food items and weights in the single nutrient reports are adapted from those in 2002 revision of USDA Home and Garden Bulletin No. 72, Nutritive Value of Foods. Mixed dishes and multiple preparations of the same food item have been omitted from this table.


Non-Dairy Food Sources of Calcium

Non-Dairy Food Sources of Calcium ranked by milligrams of calcium per standard amount; also calories in the standard amount.
Food, Standard Amount Calcium (mg) Calories
Fortified ready-to-eat cereals (various), 1 oz 236-1043 88-106
Soy beverage, calcium fortified, 1 cup 368 98
Sardines, Atlantic, in oil, drained, 3 oz 325 177
Tofu, firm, prepared with nigari, ½ cup 253 88
Pink salmon, canned, with bone, 3 oz 181 118
Collards, cooked from frozen, ½ cup 178 31
Molasses, blackstrap, 1 Tbsp 172 47
Spinach, cooked from frozen, ½ cup 146 30
Soybeans, green, cooked, ½ cup 130 127
Turnip greens, cooked from frozen, ½ cup 124 24
Ocean perch, Atlantic, cooked, 3 oz 116 103
Oatmeal, plain and flavored, instant, fortified, 1 packet prepared 99-110 97-157
Cowpeas, cooked, ½ cup 106 80
White beans, canned, ½ cup 96 153
Kale, cooked from frozen, ½ cup 90   20
Okra, cooked from frozen, ½ cup 88   26
Soybeans, mature, cooked, ½ cup 88   149
Blue crab, canned, 3 oz 86 84
Beet greens, cooked from fresh, ½ cup 82 19
Pak-choi, Chinese cabbage, cooked from fresh, ½ cup 79   10
Clams, canned, 3 oz 78 126
Dandelion greens, cooked from fresh, ½ cup 74   17
Rainbow trout, farmed, cooked, 3 oz 73 144

Some plant foods have calcium that is well absorbed, but the large quantity of plant foods that would be needed to provide as much calcium as in a glass of milk may be unachievable for many. Many other calcium-fortified foods are available, but the percentage of calcium that can be absorbed is unavailable for many of them.

Source: Nutrient values from Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 17. Foods are from ARS single nutrient reports, sorted in descending order by nutrient content in terms of common household measures. Food items and weights in the single nutrient reports are adapted from those in 2002 revision of USDA Home and Garden Bulletin No. 72, Nutritive Value of Foods. Mixed dishes and multiple preparations of the same food item have been omitted from this table.

activity 2

2. Name a food that contains calcium from the following food groups:




How can you identify Calcium on a Food Label?

You will need to practice reading food labels to determine how much calcium is in a certain food. Calcium is usually found below the second thick black line on the food label. Let's practice reading the food label! Answer the following questions.

nutrition facts activity 3

First, it is important to look at the serving size.  You may be getting more calcium if you are increasing the servings without even thinking about it!

Please refer to the Nutrition Facts to answer questions 1, 2, and 3.

1. What is the serving size of this product?

2. How much calcium is in one serving?

3. If I ate 1 cup, how much calcium would I receive?

So, how much calcium do YOU need?

Look at the chart below to figure out how much calcium you need EACH DAY!

Birth to 6 months 21% 210 mg
7-12 months 27% 270 mg
1-3 years 50% 500 mg
4-8 years 80% 800 mg
9-18 years 130% 1,300 mg
Pregnant or Lactating teens 130% 1,300 mg
Adults 19-50 100% 1,000 mg
Recommendations based on the Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium, National Academy of Sciences, 1997


activity 4

2. Are you or your child getting the recommended amounts of calcium every day?




Burritos Buenos

(Serves 12)
1 small onion
2 medium zucchini
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound ground turkey
1 cup cooked pinto beans
1 ¾ cups salsa
4 tablespoons diced mild green chiles (1 small can)
12 flour tortillas
2 large tomatoes
3 cups lettuce
1 ½ cups grated cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese

Preheat oven to 325°F. Chop onion and zucchini.
In a medium skillet, heat oil over moderate heat. Add onions and zucchini and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add ground turkey to vegetable mixture in skillet. Cook until meat in well done and drain extra fat.
Add pinto beans, 1 cup of salsa and green chiles. Stir to combine and cook until mixture is heated through.
Meanwhile, wrap tortillas in foil and warm in oven until soft.  Chop tomatoes and shred lettuce. Refrigerate until ready to use.
To assemble burritos, lay out warm tortillas on plates. Evenly divide turkey mixture among tortillas. Top each burrito with grated cheese, chopped tomatoes, shredded lettuce and remaining salsa (to taste). Roll up and serve.

Vegetable Cheese Quesadilla

2 flour tortillas
2 fresh plum tomatoes, sliced
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 large carrot, grated
1/2 cup grated reduced fat Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup plain low fat yogurt
2 tablespoon salsa
1/2 cup chopped spinach

Heat a medium-size nonstick skillet over medium heat. Place a tortilla in the skillet and warm it 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the tortilla in the skillet and place half of the tomatoes, bell pepper, green onion and carrots on one half of the tortilla. Top the vegetables with half of the cheese, yogurt, salsa and spinach. Fold the tortilla over the filling and cook another 3 minutes, or until the cheese melts.
Transfer the quesadilla to a plate, cover it with foil to keep it warm and make another quesadilla in the same fashion. Makes 2 servings.
Adapted from The Wellness Lowfat Cookbook, University of California at Berkeley

Quick Shake

(Makes approximately 4 cups)

1 ripe banana
1 cup fresh or frozen strawberries or other favorite fruit
2 cups orange juice
½ cup plain or vanilla yogurt

Wash hands.  Peel and slice banana.  Wash and hull strawberries (if using fresh berries).
Measure remaining ingredients and combine everything in blender.
Blend until ice is finely chopped and mixture is smooth.
Pout into cups and serve with straws.

Frozen Banana Orange Push-Ups

2 bananas
1 6-ounce can frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed
1/2 cup nonfat dry milk
1/2 cup water
1 cup plain nonfat yogurt

Peel bananas and slice them into a blender or the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add remaining ingredients. Cover and process until foamy. Pour evenly into 6 small paper cups. Freeze.
To eat, squeeze bottom of cup.
Courtesy Of:
American Heart Association

Pizza bagels

English muffins or bagels (pizza crusts)
Prepared pizza or spaghetti sauce
Assorted toppings: sliced olives, thinly sliced salami, chopped onions, sliced tomatoes
Grated mozzarella or Monterey Jack cheese

Prepare pizza crusts: split English muffins or slice bagels. Spread sauce on the pizza crusts. Layer with your favorite toppings and top with cheese. Bake the pizzas in the toaster oven or regular oven on foil until cheese is bubbly.

Pancake Peanut Butter Taco

(Servings: 8)

Pancakes, 4 inch, 16
Peanut Butter, smooth, 1 cup
Bananas, mashed 2, cups

1. Prepare pancakes using pancake mix or use frozen prepared pancakes.
2. Mash bananas in a mixer.
3. Mix together peanut butter and mashed banana.
4. Portion 3-Tbsp. scoops of mixture in each pancake; fold pancake over mixture.

Click here to print the recipes!

Here is a list of websites for you and your child.  Have fun!

Recipe Link:


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You have just completed the "Building Stronger Bones" lesson.  If you have any questions or comments, please contact your LWP nutritionist who will be glad to answer any of your questions. 

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