Calcium is vital for healthy bones and teeth. It is also important for muscle and nerve activity in your body, including for your heartbeat. A lack of calcium can lead to rickets in children or osteoporosis in older adults.
Who is calcium important for?
Everyone needs calcium in their diet. The amount of calcium you need changes at different stages in your life. In your teenage years, more calcium is needed because your bones are growing quickly. At an older age, your body finds it harder to absorb calcium, which is one of the reasons older adults also need more calcium.
Where can I get calcium from?
The best sources of calcium are low-fat milk and milk products as the calcium in milk is easily absorbed by the body.
Calcium is also found in other foods, including dark green leafy vegetables, almonds, sardines, salmon with bones, tofu. Vitamin D helps to increase the absorption of calcium in food.
Calcium from food is best.
Calcium supplements should only be taken if you have difficulty getting enough calcium from your diet.
At menopause women will experience a decline in calcium absorption and/or an increase in calcium excretion, putting them at increased risk of osteoporosis and bone fracture.
The Nutritional Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand say that in postmenopausal women a high calcium intake will slow the rate of bone loss and may reduce the risk of fracture. However, it is not proven that getting your calcium from supplements will have this effect. Recent studies have begun to show there may be an upward trend in heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems in postmenopausal women and older men taking calcium supplements.
You need calcium for healthy bones and teeth, but it may be safest to get yours from what you eat and drink, rather than from taking a supplement. Calcium supplementation remains an area of controversy, so it is recommended to discuss possible supplementation, and dosage, with your doctor.
Tips to increase your calcium intake
- Select reduced-fat varieties of dairy foods.
- Have small amounts of raw, unsalted almonds as a healthy snack.
- Make a green leafy salad with 45g tinned salmon as a quick lunch.
- Have a pottle of low-fat, low-sugar yoghurt for a calcium-filled afternoon tea.
- Drink a glass of milk with your breakfast or lunch.
- Try adding some of the calcium-rich foods from the table below to your meals.
What else do I need to know?
Physical activity, especially weight-bearing exercise, is also important for healthy bones.
Calcium supplementation remains an area of controversy, so it is recommended you discuss possible supplementation, and dosage, with your doctor.
Preventing osteoporosis – looking after your bones Ministry of Health NZ, 2006
Food and nutrition guidelines for healthy adults Ministry of Health, 2003
Food and nutrition guidelines for healthy children and young people (aged 2-18 years) Ministry of Health, 2012
Calcium supplements NZ Formulary