Introduction to Calcium Supplements

pile of vitamin supplements

Getting enough calcium each day is important to keep your bones and teeth strong, and your body working properly. You may be wondering if you would benefit from a calcium supplement. Read on to learn more.

How much calcium do I need?

The total amount of calcium you need (from food and supplements) depends on your age and gender. Find your recommended calcium requirements here.

Do I need a calcium supplement? 

In general, if you eat a balanced diet following Canada’s Food Guide and do not have a specific medical condition, you do not need to take a calcium supplement. Examples of foods high in calcium include: milk, yogurt, cheese, kefir, fortified plant-based beverages (like fortified soy beverage), tofu, canned salmon, white beans, almonds and spinach. For a more detailed list, read our article on food sources of calcium.
If you avoid dairy products and other calcium-rich foods, you may find it difficult to meet your calcium needs from food alone. Speak to a dietitian or health care provider to find out if you would benefit from a calcium supplement and how much to take. Your health care provider may also recommend a calcium supplement based on your specific needs, medical history and any medical conditions you may have.

What types of calcium supplements are there? 

There are two main types of calcium supplements:

  • Calcium carbonate supplements: These are taken with meals because they are best absorbed with food.
  • Calcium citrate supplements: These can be taken at any time.
Calcium is also found in most multivitamin and mineral supplements.

How do I take my calcium supplement? 

  • Drink plenty of water to help with swallowing.
  • Take no more than 500-600 mg of calcium at a time to absorb the most calcium. 
  • If you take both iron and calcium supplements, do not take them at the same time. Calcium decreases your body’s ability to absorb iron.

What forms do calcium supplements come in? 

Calcium supplements are available as pills, chewable form, liquids, powders, gel capsules and tablets that dissolve in water. Choose the form that’s right for you. When choosing a calcium supplement, look for the amount of “elemental” calcium in each tablet. Elemental calcium is the amount of calcium that your body absorbs. For example, a 1250 mg tablet of calcium carbonate may have 500 mg of elemental calcium. Check with a dietitian to see how much calcium is right for you.

Should I take any other supplement with calcium? 

Some calcium supplements contain other vitamins or minerals like vitamin D and magnesium.

  • Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium, but doesn’t need to be taken at the same time. Health Canada recommends that all adults over the age of 50 take a supplement with 400 IU of vitamin D each day.
  • Magnesium helps you maintain strong bones. However, additional magnesium does not provide extra health benefits if you are getting enough in your diet. If you think you are not getting enough magnesium from foods, speak to a dietitian.

How do I know if my calcium supplement is safe?

When choosing a calcium supplement, check for a Natural Product Number (NPN). This means that the product has been assessed by Health Canada and is considered safe, effective and high quality. Avoid buying supplements over the Internet or outside of Canada. There is no guarantee that they have met the safety standards set by Health Canada.
Calcium supplements may interact with medications you are taking. Speak to your health care provider before starting a calcium supplement if you are taking medications.

How can a dietitian help?

A dietitian will review your eating habits, lifestyle, culture, medical history and personal preferences to make recommendations on how much calcium you need and whether you would benefit from a supplement. They will give you personalized recommendations to boost your intake of calcium and other important nutrients like vitamin D and magnesium. A dietitian can give you guidance on which supplement to choose, when to take it and how often. Connect with a dietitian today!

Bottom line

Most people are able to meet their calcium needs by eating a balanced diet based on Canada’s Food Guide. However, some people may benefit from a calcium supplement. Speak to your dietitian or health care provider about your calcium needs. 

You may also be interested in:

What You Need to Know About Calcium
Food Sources of Calcium
Calcium and Kids
This article was written and reviewed by dietitians from Dietitians of Canada.

What You Need to Know About Calcium
Food Sources of Calcium
Calcium and Kids

Last Update – January 17, 2022

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