Why is calcium important for my body?
Calcium is an essential nutrient with a number important of functions. Its main use is to keep bones healthy, and working alongside another minerals, such as phosphorus, it helps to keep them strong too.
99% of the calcium in your body is stored in your bones and teeth. The remaining 1% is in your blood and soft tissues, helping regulate muscle contractions including your heartbeat, and making sure your nerves carry messages and your blood clots normally.
If we don’t get enough calcium in our diets, our bodies actually use the calcium in our bones as an emergency supply for our blood and soft tissues. If your body continues to break down more bone than it replaces over a period of years, your bones can become weak, leading to an increased risk of the bone disease osteoporosis. That’s why it’s really important to make sure you’re getting enough calcium.
It is important to note, that since the human body cannot produce its own calcium, adequate calcium intake is vital.
You are more at risk of calcium deficiency if you:
- Are on a cow’s milk or lactose free diet
- Have coeliac disease
- Have osteoporosis
- Are breastfeeding
- Are past the menopause
How much calcium do I need?
The recommended amounts of calcium for adults are as follows:
- For pre-menopausal women 25-50 years old and post-menopausal women on oestrogen replacement therapy: 1,000-1,200 milligrams of calcium per day. 1,500 milligrams of calcium per day is recommended for pregnant or lactating women.
- For postmenopausal women less than age 65 not on oestrogen replacement therapy: 1,500 milligrams of calcium per day.
- For men ages 25-65: 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day.
- For all people (women and men) over age 65: 1,500 milligrams of calcium per day.
Vitamin D and Calcium
Vitamin D helps the absorption of calcium from foods. Most of our vitamin D is made by the action of sunlight on the skin.
In April to September, going outside for 15 minutes, two or three times a week between 11am and 3pm without sunscreen should be enough to produce sufficient vitamin D.
Foods rich in vitamin D include oily fish, eggs and fortified breakfast cereals/spreads, but you cannot get enough vitamin D from food alone. You may need to take a supplement if you do not get enough (safe) sun exposure or if you are over 65 years old.
Vitamin D supplements are recommended for all pregnant or breastfeeding women, babies and children aged six months to five years, people aged 65 years and over and people not exposed to much sun.
Healthy lifestyle advice for healthy bones
- Be active – weight bearing activities are best, for example, walking, aerobics, cycling, running and tennis. Aim for at least 30 minutes of activity, five times per week.
- Smoking is associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis, low bone density and increased risk of hip fracture. Stopping smoking prevents further excess bone loss.
Meals and snack ideas
- Start the day with cereal (calcium-fortified) with milk or a milk substitute (calcium-fortified).
- Use tinned sardines or pilchards (with the bones) instead of tuna in a sandwich or on toast.
- Have a stir fry including tofu, broccoli spears and chopped nuts for lunch or dinner.
- Add yoghurt/soya yoghurt to fruit as a pudding or use milk or a milk substitute (calcium fortified) to make custard and milk puddings.
- Try a glass of low-fat milk as a snack or to help rehydrate after exercising.
- Don’t forget low-fat dairy products have the same amount of calcium as the full-fat versions.
- Remember to check non-dairy sources have added or are ‘fortified’ with calcium.
- Try to avoid sugary drinks and snacks. If you choose a calcium-rich food which contains sugar, it is best to eat this as part of a meal instead of as a snack.
Find out if you’re at risk from Osteoporosis
It’s important for everyone to get the right amount of calcium in their daily diet, but some are more at risk of developing osteoporosis than others. Take the National Osteoporosis Society’s Bone Health Quiz to learn more about your bone health, and take preventative action.Take the Bone Health Quiz
Calculate your daily calcium intake
See if you’re meeting your recommended daily intake of calcium with our handy Calcium Calculator.Go to the Calcium Calculator