Yesterday I told you why you need calcium, how much to get, and how to get it. I often get asked about calcium supplements, either because people don’t like dairy or they find it difficult to take in the required amount from food. While I believe that nutrients should come primarily from food, I do think that calcium is one of the few nutrients that need to be supplemented. It’s very rare for people to get all the calcium they need from food sources.
There are a few things to consider when taking calcium supplements:
- Calcium supplements come in different forms, primarily calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. The main difference between the two is the amount of elemental calcium the supplement contains. There is more elemental calcium in calcium carbonate than calcium citrate, so you won’t need to take as many supplements if you choose the carbonate.
- Not all calcium consumed will be absorbed. Calcium absorption depends on vitamin D levels, how acidic the environment in your intestines is (the more acidic the better), and the type of calcium (goes back to point 1).
- Choose supplements that contain the letters USP on the label. This indicates that the product meets the purity and dissolution standards established by the U.S. Pharmacopoeia. Simply put, it means that the pill will dissolve in an appropriate amount of time, and therefore be absorbed.
- Take your calcium supplements with meals if possible.
- Don’t take calcium supplements with a multivitamin/mineral. Calcium binds with iron and zinc, minerals found in a multivitamin. Therefore, if you take calcium with a multivitamin, less calcium will be absorbed.
- Calcium is better absorbed in smaller amounts, so get a supplement that contains 500 or 600 mg per pill. If you can’t find smaller doses, split larger ones in half and take at different times of the day.
- Look for a calcium supplement that contains at least 200 IU vitamin D (400 IU is best).