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Pregnancy Articles

Calcium Foods and Supplements

How Much Do You Really Need?

Most pregnant women know to pay special attention to their need for calcium. The calcium is necessary to build and maintain strong bones and teeth for both mom and baby. Despite your good intentions, sometimes it's difficult to ensure you are getting all the calcium you need everyday.

During pregnancy, the daily recommendation for calcium is 1,000 mg. The best way to meet your calcium needs is by eating a variety of calcium-rich foods. Foods high in calcium include dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt. Other sources are broccoli, collard greens, kale, salmon and sardines canned with bones, and calcium-set tofu. By eating 3 - 4 servings of dairy products daily, with one or two other high calcium foods, you can easily meet your calcium needs.

See our Calcium Nutrient Chart to see the calcium content of common foods and our May Calendar - 31 Days to Stronger Bones that features 31 tips to improve bone health through nutrition and exercise.

Here are some easy ways to sneak more calcium into your meals.
  • Use milk in preparing hot chocolate, mashed potatoes, oatmeal, and soups.
  • Make a fruit smoothie using yogurt and frozen fruit for a light refreshing meal or snack.
  • Use nonfat plain yogurt to replace part or all of the sour cream, mayonnaise or cream cheese in recipes.
  • Use canned salmon with bones, instead of tuna, for sandwiches and casseroles. Serve a stir-fry packed with calcium-rich foods like broccoli, bok choy and tofu.
  • Make a sandwich spread from calcium-fortified cottage cheese and chopped veggies.
  • Mix part-skim ricotta cheese with cinnamon and raisins to spread on bagels or English muffins.
  • Serve pudding made with milk for a dessert or snack.
While calcium-rich food is the preferred source of calcium, it may be necessary to use calcium supplements if you are not getting enough from your diet. If you need to take a calcium supplement, discuss this with your healthcare provider first, and follow these guidelines:
  • Do not take more than the recommended amount of calcium.
  • Avoid taking calcium with iron pills or your prenatal supplements. Calcium can interfere with the absorption of the iron.
  • Do not take your calcium supplement with a high fiber meal. Fiber reduces the absorption of the calcium.
  • It is best to take calcium with meals or at bedtime. It is better absorbed.
  • Drink a glass of milk, juice, or water with each supplement to promote absorption.
  • Do not take more than 600 mg of calcium at one time. If more is needed, take smaller doses several times during the day.
  • Avoid using dolomite, bone meal and oyster shell as your calcium source. They may contain lead and are poorly absorbed.
  • Not all of the calcium in a supplement is absorbed. When choosing a supplement, the amount of elemental calcium per tablet will indicate the approximate amount absorbed. Most supplements should provide 200 - 500 mg of elemental calcium per tablet.
  • Chewable supplements dissolve well and are easily absorbed. To test other supplements, place it in a cup of vinegar at room temperature and stir every 5 minutes. The pill should disintegrate completely in thirty minutes.
  • Many healthcare providers recommend calcium carbonate because it is an inexpensive and efficient source of calcium.
  • Some antacids contain calcium carbonate and can be used as a calcium supplement. Most contain 200 -300 mg of elemental calcium. If you choose to use antacids as a calcium source, check with your healthcare provider on the number that can be taken daily. Antacids lower the acidity in your stomach, therefore decreasing the absorption of iron and zinc.
  • There is no reason to pay more money for supplements with claims, such as: "no starch", "no preservatives", "natural", and "proven release". Save your money; there will be plenty of extra expenses when the baby arrives.
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About The Author

Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. She teaches prenatal classes and counsels individuals, helping women eat right and stay fit before, during and after their pregnancies.
Becky Hand

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