The balance of data suggests that calcium intake has a positive influence on bone mass in premenopausal women and has a preventive effect on the rate of bone loss in postmenopausal women. Even small advantages in bone mass provide great reductions in fracture rates. However, the majority of studies have tested the relationship of calcium intake and bone mass using calcium supplements. Few intervention studies have manipulated calcium intake through foods. Calcium is only useful to the skeleton once it is absorbed. Therefore, the bioavailability of dietary calcium becomes important in the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis. Isotopic tracer techniques have only recently been employed in the labeling of foods with calcium isotopes for evaluation of calcium absorption. Milk calcium is usually the referent food which is typically absorbed at 20-40% depending on the calcium status of the subject. The absorptive efficiency of most vegetable sources is as good or better than for dairy foods, unless they have high concentrations of oxalic acid (spinach, for example) or phytic acid (wheat bran cereal, for example). Few vegetable sources are concentrated sources of calcium. Therefore, it would be difficult to obtain adequate intakes of calcium to protect against osteoporosis without liberal use of dairy products in the diet. Alternately, calcium supplements provide concentrated amounts of absorbable calcium, but they do not provide other nutrients necessary for skeletal growth and maintenance.