Smart ways to work calcium into your pregnancy diet

We can thank milk commercials for teaching us that our bodies need calcium. But did you know that calcium is the most common mineral found in the body? Calcium helps us by building bones, clotting blood, regulating our heartbeats, and helping our nerves and muscles contract. You would think that our bodies could make such an important mineral – but they can’t.

Because of this, it’s extremely important to eat foods that provide us with calcium. Calcium doesn’t just help moms build strong bones, it helps babies form brand-new bones. And when the body isn’t getting enough calcium to build those new bones, it starts to use the calcium in its reserves – in the baby’s mom’s bones. This, in turn, can lead to health complications for mothers and their growing babies, so it’s vital to get plenty of calcium from your diet.

How much calcium do I need?

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation and the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements, women between the ages of 14 and 18 need 1,300 mg of calcium per day, whether they’re pregnant or not. Those who are between 19 and 50 years old need about 1,000 mg per day, pregnant or not. Women who are 51 years or older need about 1,200 mg per day.

If you’re wondering how to bring calcium back onto your dinner plate and into your life, the best way to do this is by eating foods that are calcium-rich, though a supplement may be needed if you aren’t getting enough, since pregnant women getting less than 500 mg a day may need to start getting a bit more, to meet maternal and fetal bone needs.

Dairy products

Dairy is the most commonly thought of food group when it comes to calcium content. Many dairy products are also fortified with Vitamin D, which helps the body more effectively absorb and use calcium, so there’s that added benefit. Some good sources of calcium from dairy include:

  • Cheeses like mozzarella, cheddar, gruyere, and parmesan
  • Milk and yogurt
  • Frozen yogurt and ice cream(!)
  • Cottage cheese

Fruits and vegetables

Just because we don’t normally associate fruits and vegetables with a high calcium content, doesn’t mean some aren’t chock-full of the great builder of bones. Some of the best fruit and vegetable sources of calcium include:

  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Bok choy
  • Dark leafy greens (like kale, collard greens, Swiss chard)
  • Dried figs

Other calcium-rich foods

Though they may not be as well-known of sources as milk and cheese, there are plenty of other foods outside of the dairy food group that pregnant moms can explore to help get enough calcium:

  • Tofu
  • Brazil nuts
  • Hazelnuts
  • Almonds
  • Sardines
  • Canned salmon
  • Oysters

Nonfat powdered milk: a simple way to get calcium

For a quick and easy calcium boost, the National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends adding a tablespoon of nonfat powdered milk to your food. Nonfat milk products have more calcium because the fat has been removed, leaving more space for calcium.

One tablespoon adds a full 50 mg of calcium to whatever you’re eating. If you’re making a full recipe, you can add anywhere from 2 to 4 tablespoons of it to the recipe.

Calcium-fortified foods

Some foods are fortified with calcium so that you can get a large amount of the nutrient in foods that wouldn’t normally contain it. Foods that are commonly fortified with calcium include almond milk, rice milk, soy milk, fruit juices, and some bread products.

Make sure to shake all liquids that have been fortified with calcium, as it tends to settle at the bottom of the container.

A note on calcium supplements

Calcium supplements are a good option for people who can’t get enough calcium through their diet, but it’s far more effective to eat foods with a high calcium content. The risk factors of these supplements aren’t entirely known, and eating foods with calcium provides other health benefits, too, and can deliver calcium in a way that’s easier for the body to absorb. If you can manage to work more calcium in your diet, you’ll get the best health effects.

If you do decide to take calcium supplements or you feel that you won’t be able to get enough calcium in your diet, speak to your healthcare provider about your concerns. He or she may be able to advise you on how to alter your nutrition, or what supplements are good for you to take.

Calcium is an essential mineral with a particular flair for multitasking – it does so much in our bodies and no other minerals are quite up to the job. It’s important to get an adequate amount of calcium for your body, and eating foods that are rich in calcium is the perfect way to do so.

  • “Ch. 17: Nutrition During Pregnancy.” ACOG. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Apr 2015. Web.
  • “Calcium supplementation in pregnant women.” WHO. Department of Nutrition for Health and Development, World Health Organization, 
  • “Guideline: Food Safety for Pregnant Women.” FDA. USDA, Food Safety and Inspection Service, HHS, Food and Drug Administration, Jan 18 2017. Web. 
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