When you’re a kid, everyone tells you to drink your milk because you need to get your calcium. Without calcium, your bones will be weak and you won’t grow up big and strong, meaning you won’t be cool and no one will like you. Or at least that’s the way we always treated calcium. But how vital is calcium to an adult’s body? Are you still getting enough calcium on a daily basis, and just how much would that be anyway? Let’s take a look and find out how much calcium you actually need.

One of the biggest misnomers we encounter is that bone strength relies entirely on getting enough calcium into our system. This simply is not true as there are a lot of factors that dictate how much calcium we should get and to what effect it will have on our bones, but one thing is startlingly clear: On average, it appears that the countries around the world with the highest intake of diary and animal products have on average the highest rates of hip fractures. What this could mean is that everything we know and have been told about calcium is wrong.

In fact, some of this is confirmed when we look at the relationship between calcium and protein. What we know for certain is that the more protein you eat, the greater your calcium requirements become, specifically if the protein in question comes from animal products, meaning that those who eat a lot of protein typically need a lot more calcium than they’re actually getting but don’t know it as they just assume there’s one magic number they need to hit in a day.

The same applies for sodium, so adding salt to things can make it more difficult for your body to absorb the needed calcium. Other factors that dictate your calcium intake are foods high in phosphorous (typically sodas and foods with caffeine), phytates and oxalates (found in foods like whole wheat and spinach), and just generally how good your body is in general at soaking it all up.

There are a few things you can do to improve your absorption though. Physical exercise, specifically exercise that involves weights, will help your body to hold on to calcium far better than if you get no exercise. Part of this is because it adds bone density, but also because being active in general makes your body tougher and more ready for anything. The amount of sunlight you get will also improve your calcium usage as vitamin D, prominently manufactured within your body when exposed to sun, helps make calcium easier to absorb. I suppose then that the best advice is to get outside and exercise when you have the chance!

To ensure you’re getting enough calcium in your diet, it’s a smart idea to ensure you’re eating at least two or more servings of high-calcium foods in a day, which can be easy if you’re eating yogurt or drinking milk, but other options such as broccoli, collard greens, garbanzo beans, kale, mustard greens, soymilk, oranges, or almond butter are a great place to start looking. Sure, normal milk is basically alright, but unless you’re an infant or early toddler, you really aren’t capable of transferring the calcium from the milk into your own body. Vegans, this is your chance to cheer loud and proud!

Calcium is important to a healthy body, but it seems we understand so little about it. Part of this is the misinformation we receive in grade school about how important milk is, only to know now that it isn’t nearly the best place to turn for good, quality calcium. Check out the leafy greens and legumes, then come back and tell me your bones don’t feel better. And remember to exercise! I know, I’m horribly cruel, but you’ll thank me someday when your bones aren’t breaking from sneezing.