Many of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients our bodies need, come from the foods we eat. Calcium, in particular, is important at every age as it is needed to maintain healthy teeth, bones, muscles, heart, nerves, and even the clotting ability of our blood. Here we will look at the role of calcium and how you can maintain healthy calcium levels.
- Calcium is important at every age.
- For most people, eating a balanced and varied diet should give all the calcium the body needs
- Although dairy products are a main source of calcium, there are many other sources available
Calcium is an important dietary mineral that is found in many foods. It plays a vital role in the function of our bodies. It can be sourced from eating a varied diet.
So why is calcium important for our bodies?
The importance of calcium
According to the NHS, the main functions of calcium includes: “helping build strong bones and teeth, regulating muscle contractions, including your heartbeat and making sure blood clots normally.” The body also needs calcium for nerves to carry messages between the brain and every body part.
The best sources of calcium
Eating a varied and balanced diet should be enough for your calcium intake. Dairy products have a high amount of calcium and there are plenty of other sources (including plant-based sources) that will help you meet your body’s calcium needs.
The main sources of calcium include:
- Milk, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy foods
- Green leafy vegetables such as spinach and broccoli
- Seeds and nuts
- Sardines and pilchards (if the fish is canned/tinned and you can eat the bones)
- Some foods can also be fortified with calcium, such as breakfast cereals, fruit juices, soy, and tofu (to find out if a product has been fortified, check the product label)
- Grains such as bread and pasta can also contribute a significant of calcium to the diet as people eat them often or in large amounts
However, high levels of both protein and sodium (salt) may increase the amount of calcium that leaves your body through the kidneys. It is recommended that those with a low calcium intake should refrain from these substances.
How much calcium do we need?
depends on a number of factors including age, gender, and certain health conditions. The average adult needs 700mg per day.
According to the NHS, you should be able to get all of the calcium you need by eating a varied and balanced diet. Care should be taken if you take calcium supplements as taking too much can be harmful. Taking high doses of calcium (more than 1500mg a day) could lead to stomach pain and diarrhea. If you are concerned that you are not able to get enough calcium from your diet, you should ask your doctor for advice.
What happens if I don’t get enough calcium from my diet?
The NHS state that a lack of calcium in the diet could lead to a condition called rickets in children, and osteomalacia or osteoporosis in later life.
People with some health conditions, including coeliac disease, osteoporosis and inflammatory bowel disease need more calcium in their diet. Some people, such as those who are lactose intolerant, are unable to consume all calcium-rich foods. It is estimated that for every 10 people there are 2 that are lactose intolerant. Lactose intolerance could also lead to a lower calcium intake, as for many the main source of the nutrient is milk and dairy products. Therefore, knowing about and eating other sources of calcium could help.
Dietary supplements are available, however, if you are concerned that you are unable to get enough calcium from your diet, you should ask your doctor for advice.
For conditions such as osteoporosis, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is also important. The Association of UK Dieticians recommend keeping active and participating in weight-bearing activities (such as walking, aerobics, running, or cycling) can be helpful advice for healthy bones. Also, stopping smoking prevents excess bone loss (as smoking is associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis and low bone density).
BDA. “Calcium: Food Fact Sheet.” The Association of UK Dietitians. (2017). https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/calcium.html.
Bupa. “Lactose Intolerance.” Nutrition and Diet. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-Consumer/#:~:text=The%20body%20needs%20calcium%20to,brain%20and%20every%20body%20part.
Institute of Medicine (US). “Panel on Dietary Antioxidants and Related Compounds. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoids.” FOOD AND NUTRITION BOARD, INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE-NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES DIETARY REFERENCE INTAKES: RECOMMENDED INTAKES FOR INDIVIDUALS. (Washington DC, National Academies Press US, 2000). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK225472/.
Jennings, Kerri-Ann. “Top 15 Calcium-Rich Foods (Many Are Non-Diary).” Nutrition. (2018). https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/15-calcium-rich-foods.
National Institutes of Health. “Calcium and Vitamin D: Important at Every Age.” NIH Osteoporosis and Related at Every Age. (2018). https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/bone-health/nutrition/calcium-and-vitamin-d-important-every-age.
NHS. “Calcium.” Vitamins and Minerals. (2020). https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitamins-and-minerals/calcium/.