Center for Young Women's Health

Calcium and Teens:

How to Prevent Osteoporosis



  • Calcium is a mineral that gives strength to your bones.
  • It's important to get enough calcium during your teen years so you'll have strong bones now and when you're older.
  • You may need a calcium supplement if you don't get enough calcium in your diet.

You have probably seen the “milk mustache” on some of your favorite stars, but are you sporting your own? Unfortunately, only 12% of teen girls actually get enough calcium in their diet.


What is calcium? Why do I need to be concerned about it now?

Calcium is a mineral that gives strength to your bones. Calcium is also necessary for many of your body's functions, such as blood clotting and nerve and muscle function. During the teenage years (particularly ages 11-15), your bones are developing quickly and are storing calcium so that your skeleton will be strong later in life. Nearly half of all bone is formed during these years. It's important that you get plenty of calcium in your diet because if the rest of the body doesn't get the calcium it needs, it takes calcium from the only source that it has: your bones. This can lead to brittle bones later in life and broken bones at any time.


What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a bone disease that develops slowly and is usually caused by a combination of genetics and too little calcium in the diet. Osteoporosis is a disease in which bones become fragile and more likely to break. Osteoporosis can also lead to shortened height because of collapsing spinal bones and can cause a hunched back.


How do I know if I'm at risk?

Several factors can put a young person at risk for developing osteoporosis. They include:

Osteoporosis can be prevented. There are some risk factors that you cannot change (such as your race and the fact that you're female), but there are some you can! Eat a healthy diet, get some exercise, and don't smoke!


How much calcium do I need?

Children and teenagers between the ages of 9 and 18 should aim for 1,300 milligrams per day, which is about 4 servings of high-calcium food or drinks. Each 8-ounce glass of milk (whether skim, 1%, 2%, or whole) and each cup of yogurt has about 300 milligrams of calcium. Adults 19 to 50 years of age should aim for 1,000 milligrams per day.


How do I know how much calcium is in the foods I eat?

Nutrition Facts Label for MilkFor foods that contain calcium and have a nutrition facts label, there will be a % Daily Value (DV) listed next to the word calcium. To figure out how many milligrams of calcium a serving of food has, take the % DV, drop the % sign, and add a zero. Can you use the label on the left to find out how much calcium is in one cup of skim milk? 30% means there is about 300mg of calcium per serving. The chart below shows how much calcium is in some calcium-rich foods from different food groups.


What foods contain calcium?

You probably know that dairy foods like milk and cheese are good sources of calcium, but do you know that tofu and beans contain calcium, too? Even if you don't drink milk or eat cheese, you can get the calcium you need from other foods. See the list of high-calcium foods at the end of this guide.


What if I'm lactose intolerant?

If you are lactose intolerant and can't drink milk, there are plenty of other ways to get enough calcium. These include eating foods high in calcium and drinking fortified soy milk, fortified juice, or LactaidTM milk (the lactase enzyme that you are missing has been added into the milk). You may also take lactase enzyme tablets before eating dairy products to help digest the lactose sugar in the milk. Some people who are lactose intolerant can tolerate having small amounts of milk or other dairy products at a time.


How can I get more calcium in my diet?







What if I just can't get enough calcium in my diet?

It's best to try to meet your calcium needs by having calcium-rich foods and drinks, but some teens find it hard to fit in 4 servings of high-calcium foods daily. If you don't like dairy foods or calcium fortified juice or soymilk, you may need a calcium supplement. Calcium carbonate (for example, Tums® or Viactiv®) and calcium citrate (for example, Citracal®) are good choices. When choosing a supplement, keep the following things in mind:

Food Serving Milligrams of Calcium
Dairy Products
Yogurt, low-fat 1 cup 338-448
Ricotta cheese, part-skim 1/2 cup 335
Milk (skim) 1 cup 299
Fortified soy and rice milks 1 cup 301
Milk (1%) 1 cup 305
Milk (whole) 1 cup 276
Ricotta cheese, whole 1/2 cup 255
Swiss cheese 1 ounce 224
Mozzarella cheese, part skim 1 ounce 222
Cheddar cheese 1 ounce 204
Muenster cheese 1 ounce 203
American cheese 1 ounce 296
Frozen yogurt 1/2 cup 103
Ice cream 1/2 cup 84
Pudding 4 ounce countainer 55

Protein Foods
Canned sardines (with bones) 3 ounces 325
Soybeans, cooked 1 cup 261
Canned salmon (with bones) 3 ounces 212
Nasoya Tofu Plus®, firm 3 ounces 201
Kidney beans, canned 1/2 cup 44
White beans, cooked 1/2 cup 80
Crab, canned 3 ounces 90
Clams, canned and drained 3 ounces 55
Almonds 1 oz (24 nuts) 76
Sesame seeds 1 tablespoon 88

Collard greens, cooked 1/2 cup 134
Spinach, cooked 1/2 cup 122
Kale, cooked 1/2 cup 47
Broccoli, cooked 1/2 cup 31

Calcium-fortified orange juice 1 cup 349
Rhubarb, cooked 1/2 cup 174
Dried figs 1/3 cup 72
Orange 1 66

Cereals and Bars
Total Raisin Bran® Cereal 1/2 cup 500
Cream of Wheat® Cereal 1 cup 303
Basic 4® Cereal 1 cup 250
Kix® Cereal 1 1/4 cup 171
Luna® Bar 1 bar 425

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2013. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 26.

Written and reviewed by the CYWH Staff at Boston Children's Hospital


Updated: 10/17/2013


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