Calcium and health

You may have been hearing about calcium and the importance for good health lately with Healthy Bone Week during August. Many people think they get enough calcium- but are you really and why do we need to?

What is calcium and why is it important?

Calcium is a mineral essential for good health. It is important for strong bones and teeth and proper nerve and muscle function.

Where do I find it?

Calcium can be found in some foods. Dairy foods are one of the richest sources of calcium that the body can easily use, however they are not the only ones. Foods containing calcium include:

  • Dairy foods – milk, yogurt and cheese
  • Almonds
  • Fish with edible bones ( e.g. salmon and sardines)
  • Green leafy vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, spinach
  • Soy/tofu- some are made with calcium but check the labels.
  • Calcium fortified products

How much do I need?

You may have heard health professionals talk about having 3 serves of calcium a day for good health. This is a good guide for most men and women 19-50yrs old to help you get the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of calcium. Adolescents, women 50+ and men 70+ will need 4 serves a day.

The table¹ below lists the RDI’s for calcium for each food group. One serve of calcium is 300mg.

  • Babies 0-6 months – Approx. 210 mg (if breast fed) – Approx. 350 mg (if bottle fed)
  • Babies 7-12 months – 270 mg
  • Children 1 -3 years – 500 mg
  • Children 4 – 8 years – 700 mg
  • Children 9 – 11 years – 1,000 mg
  • Adolescents 12 – 18 years (including pregnant and breast feeding young women) – 1,300 mg
  • Women 19-50 years (including pregnant and breastfeeding young women) – 1,000 mg
  • Women 50 – 70 years – 1,300 mg
  • Men 19 – 70 years – 1,000 mg
  • Adults over 70 years – 1,300 mg

What happens when I do not have enough calcium?

The human body likes to keep levels of nutrients in the body stable. This means if you don’t have enough calcium in your diet your body may begin to get the calcium it needs from your bones. This can cause weakening/thinning of the bones which can lead to health implications when you are older such as osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is very common in the older population²- 1 in 2 women and 1 in 3 men over 60yrs will experience an osteoporotic fracture in their life. It is important to have an adequate calcium intake throughout your entire life- not just when you are older. This is because bone density naturally begins to decrease early on in life- in your 20’s.

There are some additional dietary factors that can affect your bone strength including:

  • calcium
  • salt
  • caffeine
  • vitamin D
  • fibre
  • alcohol
  • activity levels

If you are having trouble including calcium rich foods in your diet, are at risk of developing osteoporosis or have osteoporosis then you may benefit from some advice from an Accredited Practising Dietitian – click here to make an appointment.

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