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Are you getting enough Calcium in your diet?

Calcium & Healthy Bones

This fact sheet is aimed at providing you with important information to aid in preventing common bone conditions, such as Osteoporosis, from occurring later in life.

Whilst calcium is important for bone health, vitamin D and exercise (such as resistance training) are also essential in reducing the risk of developing such conditions like Osteoporosis.

The Facts about Calcium

Calcium is an essential mineral which is stored in the teeth and bones where it has the primary role of providing structure and strength by combining with other minerals within the body.

Calcium is required for the normal development and maintenance of the skeleton and also plays an integral role in many chemical processes that occur within our body such as:

  • Contraction and relaxation of muscles
  • Transmission of nerve signals
  • Clotting of the blood

These processes are vital in order for our bodies to function and because of these processes we gain and lose calcium from their stores everyday.

Our bodies are constantly using calcium to carry out day to day functions essential for the healthy functioning of our heart, muscles, blood, and nerves. Essentially, our bones act as a bank for our calcium stores.

If we fail to consume more calcium than we use, we end up in a state of a negative balance. This imbalance causes the amount of calcium circulating through our bodies to decrease which can result in the body using additional calcium from its stores – the bones.

If this continues to occur the end result is the development of Osteoporosis. Therefore, it is important for each individual to remain in a positive calcium balance. This can be achieved by ensuring individuals have an adequate intake throughout the day.

Recommended Daily Intake – Calcium

The amount of calcium we need to consume every day depends on our age and gender.

The stages of life where our requirements are highest are for teenagers, as they undergo a period of rapid bone growth and for women over 50 and men over 70 years old.

In adulthood, calcium is vital to maintaining our bone strength. For women, menopause is a time of more rapid bone loss. As a result, calcium requirements are higher during this stage of life.

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends the following daily intake of Calcium as outlined in the table below:

AgeDaily Calcium
Boys9-11 yrs12-18 yrs1000mg -1300mg
Girls9-11 yrs12-18 yrs1000mg -1300mg
Men19-70 yrs+70 yrs1000mg -1300mg
Women19-50 yrs+50 yrs1000mg -1300mg
PregnantLast 3 Months1100mg
Breast Feeding1200mg

Source: National Health and Medical Research Council (2006). Nutrient reference values for Australian and New Zealand.

High Calcium Foods

The best way to get the recommended level of calcium intake for your age (as specified in the table above) is to eat a diet that is rich in calcium. The content in food varies significantly, so it is important to consume foods that are ‘calcium rich’.

The following foods can be found to have high levels of calcium and can be great additions into your diet

  • Dairy Products: Milk, Cheese, Yoghurt
    • These foods contain high levels of calcium which can be easily absorbed. Try to include 3 serve per day into your normal diet. For example, a glass of milk (approx. 250mL or a tub of yoghurt (approx. 200g). Low fat options contain similar levels
    • You can also utilise yoghurt in soups or salads.
    • Add milk or skim milk powder to soups or casseroles.
  • Soy Products: Milk, tofu
  • Wheat germ
  • Figs
  • Eggs
  • Tahini
  • Nuts: Almonds, Brazil
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Seafood: Salmon (with bones), Sardines (with bones), Anchovy, Snapper, Crab meat, Shellfish, Prawns
  • Vegetables: Cabbage, Spinach, Broccoli, Beans
  • Fresh Herbs: Parsley

Practical Tips to Increase your Intake

In order to increase your intake and make sure you are getting enough, there are various strategies you can implement into your diet. These are listed below:

  • Try to include three serves of calcium rich foods such as a glass of milk (250ml), a tub of yoghurt (200g) and 2 slices of cheese (40g)
  • Try to eat the bones that are present in canned fish such as sardines and salmon – the calcium is more concentrated in the bones
  • Add milk or skim milk powder to soups or casseroles
  • Try adding yoghurt to soups, salads or desserts
  • Include more broccoli, bok choy, silverbeet, cucumber and celery in your dit
  • Try to include almonds, dried figs and dried apricots
  • Make sure to consume products fortified with calcium such as breakfast cereals and some fruit juices and cereals
  • Soy does not contain a significant amount of calcium however, calcium is added to many soy based products such as calcium set tofu and soy milk

How Much Calcium is Absorbed in the Body?

Not all the calcium consumed is used by the body. There are some factors that can lead to low levels such as:

  • Low Vitamin D levels
  • Excessive caffeine and alcohol intake
  • Certain medications
  • Medical conditions such as coeliac disease
  • A diet high in phytates – found in some cereals and brans may reduce the calcium absorbed from other foods consumed at the same time
  • A diet high in oxalates – found in spinach and rhubarb only reduces the calcium absorption from the foods it is found in

Is Calcium Enough for my Bones?

Well, No. In Short, it is just one of the essential ingredient for taking good care of your bones. For those individuals diagnosed with osteoporosis (including those who have experienced a bone fracture), calcium alone is not sufficient to prevent fractures from occurring. Exercise should be considered as an adjunct form of treatment as it too can help to strengthen the bones within the body.

Peak Bone Mass

Our bones reach their peak strength and maximum calcium stores between the ages of 19 and 30 years old. This is called the Peak Bone Mass. After this time, bone mass gradually declines. The amount and rate of loss of bone mass varies from person to person, however is usually approximately 1% each year.

For women, bone density decreases dramatically during menopause as a result of a decrease in the natural oestrogen (female hormone) levels.

The more bone you have at the Peak Bone Mass, the greater the stores of calcium you have to call upon in the later stages of life and the less likely it is that the bone mass will decrease to a point where fractures may occur.

In Conclusion

The above information is provided as a guide only and does not replace any qualified medical advice.

The information given may not apply to every individual or all situations. It is recommended that you consult with your medical practitioner for all individual treatment and medication.

If you would like to make an appointment with one of our wonderful team, please click the Make an Appointment button at the top of this page.

Source: Osteoperosis Australia – Calcium Consumer Guide