Are you getting enough calcium in your diet?

Calcium for strong bones might be what you’re used to hearing. Indeed, calcium is an important mineral for building and maintaining healthy bones and teeth.

It is the most abundant mineral in the human body and most adults contain between 2-3lbs of calcium. Aside from preventing brittle bones, calcium is also required for efficient blood clotting, muscle contraction, neurotransmitter signalling and insulin response (1). Studies have also shown that consuming calcium supplements for three menstrual cycles reduced PMS symptoms by 48%
compared to placebo (7). Low calcium intake has also been implicated in people who are overweight.(10)

It is important to obtain sufficient sunlight, avoid excess protein and acidic foods that leach calcium from bones.

How much do we need?
The RDA is 1000 mg for adolescents and 800 mg for adults (3). However, research shows that absorption decreases with age and is reliant on Vitamin D and Vitamin K status. Furthermore, menopausal women and older populations may need higher intakes (4).

So how can we ensure we get sufficient calcium? There are many foods that provide good sources of calcium as shown in the table to the right.

Drink your milk.
It is widely acknowledged that dairy milk is a good source of calcium (116mg/100ml). However, up to 65% of adults are lactose intolerant and are unable to digest dairy with this increasing to 90% in some populations (11)

A 12 year, Women’s health study concluded that high consumption of dairy does not protect against bone fractures (8) and a review over the last 20 years has shown that Osteoporotic bone fracture rates are highest in countries that consume the most dairy and animal protein (9).

To maximise calcium status, avoid antinutrients that inhibit absorption such as large intakes of phytates and oxalates from raw vegetables and grains (1), phosphates from fizzy drinks (5) and high consumption of alcohol and caffeine (6).

It’s important to obtain sufficient sunlight, and to avoid excess protein and acidic foods that can leach calcium from bones. Eating a high plant based diet containing foods high in calcium, with a good balance of magnesium such as leafy greens, nuts and seeds, will help provide you with the ideal balance of calcium to magnesium for optimum health(12)

4. Committee to Review Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin D and Calcium, Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. Washington,DC: National Academy Press, 2010
5. Heaney RP, Rafferty K. Carbonated beverages and urinary calcium excretion. Am J Clin Nutr 2001;74:343-7
6. Massey LK, Whiting SJ. Caffeine, urinary calcium, calcium metabolism, and bone. J Nutr 1993;123:1611-4
7. Thys-Jacobs S, Starkey P, Bernstein D, et al. Calcium carbonate and the premenstrualsyndrome: Effects on premenstrual and menstrual symptoms. Am J Obstet Gynecol, 1998; 179:444-52
8. Feskanich D, Willett WC, et al. Milk, dietary calcium, and bone fractures in women: a 12-year prospective study; AM J Public Health1997;87(6):992-7
9. Lanou A J; Should dairy be recommended as part of a healthy vegetarian diet? Counterpoint; Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 May;89(5)
10. Mario J. Soares, Wendy L. Chan She-Ping-Delfos. Postprandial Energy Metabolism in the Regulation of Body Weight: Is there a Mechanistic Role for Dietary Calcium? Nutrients 2010, 2(6), 586 598
12. lactose-intolerance#statistics
12.Dr Carolyn Dean, The Miracle of Magnesium, 2003, Simon & Schuster UK Ltd., ISBN 0-7432-4016-2

Article written by  Samantha Lewis a registered Nutritionist with BANT. Find out more over at: @ConsciousChoiceNutrition on Facebook.