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Ingested calcium comes from food sources and dietary supplements. In this report dietary calcium refers to both food sources and supplements combined (although some researchers reserve the term dietary calcium to mean only food sources) and is most often referred to as total calcium intake for clarity. With more than one-half of the U.S. population (Bailey et al., 2010)—and between 24 and 60 percent of Canadians (2004 Canadian Community Health Survey, personal communication, D. Brulé, Health Canada, April 29, 2010)—reporting use of dietary supplements of some type, dietary supplements must be taken into account when considering the sources of calcium in the diet and, in turn, estimating total calcium intake. Current estimates from 2003 to 2006 indicate that the median total intake of calcium from all sources for persons > 1 year of age ranges from 918 to 1,296 mg/day, depending upon life stage (Bailey et al., 2010). Only small amounts of calcium are contributed by water, depending upon geographic location. Chapter 7 of this report contains an assessment of quantitative calcium intake in the U.S. and Canadian populations.


Calcium is classically associated with dairy products; milk, yogurt, and cheese are rich sources of calcium, providing the major share of calcium from foods in the general diet in the United States and Canada. In the United States, an estimated 72 percent of calcium comes from milk, cheese and yogurt and from foods to which dairy products have been added (e.g., pizza, lasagna, dairy desserts). The remaining calcium comes from vegetables (7 percent); grains (5 percent); legumes (4 percent); fruit (3 percent); meat, poultry, and fish (3 percent); eggs (2 percent); and miscellaneous foods (3 percent).1 Similar data from Canada are not currently available.

Fortification with calcium for a number of foods that do not naturally contribute calcium—such as orange juice, other beverages, and ready-to-eat cereals—is becoming commonplace in the United States (Calvo et al., 2004; Rafferty et al., 2007; Poliquin et al., 2009). These practices challenge the ability of national food composition databases, such as those maintained by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), to keep abreast of these newer products and may result in some underestimation of actual calcium intake from food sources. However, for those persons who choose such foods, total calcium intake is increased.


U.S. Department of Agriculture/Economic Research Service Nutrient Availability Data (2009). Available online at Accessed October 19, 2010.

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