Calcium is essential for building and maintaining bone. Almost about 99% of the body’s calcium is found in the bones. Calcium combines with other minerals to form hard crystals that give your bones strength and structure.
A small amount of calcium is dissolved in the blood; this calcium is essential for the healthy functioning of the heart, muscles, blood and nerves. Bones act like a calcium bank, if you do not take in enough calcium from your diet the body will withdraw calcium from your ‘bone bank’ for use in these other parts of the body. If your body withdraws more calcium than it deposits over a long period, your bone density (bone strength) will gradually decline and you may be at risk of developing osteoporosis.
Calcium from food
The best way to get the recommended level of calcium intake for your age is to eat a diet rich in calcium. Calcium content in food varies significantly, so it is important to consume ‘calcium rich’ foods.
Recommended: 3 – 5 serves of calcium rich food daily (number of serves depends on level of calcium)
Tips for increasing calcium intake
- Dairy foods contain a high level of calcium which is easily absorbed – include 3 serves per day in your normal diet eg: glass of milk (250 ml), tub of yoghurt (200 g), slice of cheese (40 g) (Low fat options contain similar levels of calcium)
- Try canned salmon or sardines which contain bones rich in calcium
- Use yoghurt in soups or salads
- Add milk or skim milk powder to soups or casseroles
- Try soy based products and tofu that contain calcium
- Include broccoli, mustard cabbage, bok choy, silverbeet, cucumber, celery, chick peas in your regular diet
- Eat more almonds, dried figs and dried apricots
- Products fortified with calcium (eg some breakfast cereals) can help improve your calcium intake
Calcium - do we absorb everything?
Not all the calcium we consume is absorbed. It is normal for a small amount of calcium to be lost and excreted. This is taken into consideration with the recommended intake for your age. However other factors can lead to an abnormally low level of calcium absorption and should be discussed with your doctor, for example:
- Low vitamin D levels
- Excessive caffeine and alcohol
- Diets high in phytates or oxalates
Phytates (eg: some cereals and brans) can reduce calcium absorbed from other foods eaten at the same time
Oxolates (eg: spinach, rhubarb) only reduce the calcium absorbed from the food in which they are present
- Certain medical conditions (eg:coeliac disease, kidney disease) and certain medicines (eg: prednisone, prednisolone) and
Less than half of all Australian adults get their daily recommended intake of calcium.
Osteoporosis Australia recommends you obtain your required calcium intake from your diet. When this is not possible a supplement may be required and is recommended in doses of 500 – 600 mg per day.
The most common supplements are calcium carbonate, calcium citrate or hydroxapatite. Supplements may take the form of oral tablets (swallowed), effervescent tablets, chewable tablets or soluble powder.
Calcium supplements are usually well tolerated and are sometimes combined with vitamin D supplements as required. Take supplements as directed and talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you have any queries.
Calcium supplements: latest debate - safety of calcium supplements - Calcium Statement
Calcium and osteoporosis
For people diagnosed with osteoporosis (and those who have experienced a fracture from osteoporosis) calcium alone is not sufficient to prevent fractures. Osteoporosis treatment is required, as advised by a doctor. However most osteoporosis treatment is prescribed with calcium supplementation, and often combined with vitamin D, to ensure proper management of your bone health.
Calcium Fact Sheet:
Last Updated on Tuesday, 16 April 2013 10:01