Adding Calcium

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Adding Calcium to Your Daily Diet . . . Without Adding Additional Fat

        by Andrea Denk, UIC Dietetic Intern, 2000

Asking a woman who follows a low-fat diet to increase the amount of calcium in her diet could be a scary task.  The majority of calcium in the “American” diet comes from dairy products such as milk, cheese and ice cream.  To think of adding milk, cheese and ice cream to your diet can sound contradictory to the low-fat diet that you work so hard to follow. So lets remember a few things before you commit to making calcium part of your everyday life.

1.        A healthy diet includes VARIETY.

2.       Not all dairy products are high in fat and, for the most part, even those that are high in fat have low-fat versions. 

3.       Successfully following a low-fat diet means being able to balance all the food groups in a way that your diet is still consistent with low-fat guidelines. 

For example, instead of having four slices of turkey for lunch, have three slices of turkey and one slice of low-fat cheese.  The sandwich remains low fat, only you get the added benefit of calcium.

So, why is calcium so important?  As a child, calcium is important to help your bones grow strong.  As a teenager and young adult your bones become very dense, this is called your Peak Bone Mass.  At this time, your task is to keep your Peak Bone Mass as high as you can for the rest of your life.  After menopause women have a different need for calcium.  During these years calcium is needed to keep bone density loss to a minimum.  Losing too much bone density may cause osteoporosis (light, porous, fragile bones) which leads to loss of height, curvature of the spine and bone fractures.   

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for calcium is 1000-1200mg per day, which equals approximately 2-4 servings per day of dairy products.  One high-calcium food equals 1 serving of calcium and 3 medium-calcium foods equal 1 serving of calcium.  Here is a list of some low-fat calcium foods:

            High-Calcium Foods                                         Medium-Calcium Foods

1.        Skim milk (1 cup)                            1.  Nonfat cottage cheese  (½ cup)

2.       Chocolate skim milk (1 cup)             2.  Nonfat frozen yogurt  (½ cup)

3.       Lowfat cheese (1½ oz)                     3.  Dried beans or peas  (1 cup)

4.       Hot chocolate (1 cup)                      4.  Refried beans  (1 cup)

5.       Fat-free pudding (1 cup)                 5.  Canned fish w/bones  (2 oz)

6.       Sardines w/bones (6)                     6.  Nonfat cream cheese  (2 T)

7.       Lowfat buttermilk (1 cup)               7.  Corn tortillas  (2)

8.       Lowfat yogurt (1 cup)                     8.  Broccoli (1 cup)

        Now it’s time to jump on the calcium bandwagon!  Start each day with 1 cup of skim milk added to your favorite high-fiber cereal.  For lunch, try to include lowfat yogurt, and for dinner add a glass of cold chocolate skim milk.  There you go, in one day you have included 3 servings of lowfat calcium foods.  Another thing to remember, if you want to increase the servings you can always increase the serving size, rather than adding an additional source. 


Additional notes from Marla:

New research is showing that people who consume more calcium have lower weights! Now you have another reason to include 3 - 4 servings per day of calcium-rich foods in your diet.



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If you have any comments or questions, email us at This page was last updated on January 09, 2010.

Original web design by Julie Wehmeyer, while she was a dietetic intern at UIC