Calcium – is it all about milk?
What is calcium?
Calcium is an important mineral in the body; 98% is found in bones, 1% in teeth and 1% in other tissues.
Why is it needed?
As you may have heard calcium is needed for strong bones but it also has a role in muscle contraction, nerve function and blood clotting. If you do not have enough calcium in your diet these functions still need to continue, so instead calcium is drawn from your bones. If this continues to occur over a long period it could lead to bone thinning or osteoporosis
How much do I need?
Your daily requirements for calcium differ depending on your age group.
What are the calcium rich foods?
Calcium is commonly associated with dairy products like milk, cheese and yoghurt but it also available in cereals, breads, fruits and vegetables and tinned fish (with bones) like salmon, sardines and pilchards.
Dairy products: Milk (all types included low fat versions), cheese, yoghurt and products made of these
Drinks: Malted milk drinks, light hot chocolate drinks (made with water)
Fish: Tinned sardines, salmon, pilchards (with bones), whitebait, scampi
Cereals: White and wholemeal bread, fortified cereals
How do I plan my diet to meet my calcium needs?
Having a varied diet is the best way to ensure your body is meeting its requirements. Try to include a calcium source at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Have a look at these different meal plans for further ideas:
The first graphic shows a meal plan following a standard diet which meets 700mg a day
This meal plan shows how you can meet your daily calcium needs when following a plant-based diet.
This last graphic shows how post-menopausal women and men over 55 years age can meet their 1200mg daily calcium needs.
Calcium sources if following a Plant-based diet
Check your milk substitute is fortified with calcium (avoid organic versions as they are not fortified) and shake it up before you serve so the minerals are not sinking to the bottom
Good Vegan sources of calcium:
Calcium set tofu
Pulses: Baked beans, Chickpeas, black beans, lentils, soya beans, kidney beans
Vegetables: Broccoli, bok choy, kale
Seeds & nuts: Sesame seeds, chia seeds, almonds
Fruit: Dried figs, orange
Cereals: Fortified cereals, white and bread bread
How can I maximise my absorption of calcium?
Vitamin D helps calcium to be absorbed into the bones. Most of our Vitamin D is generated under the skin from sunlight however in the UK in the winter months (October to March) a 10ug supplement is recommended. A Vitamin D supplement is also recommended all year round to people from BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups) and people with little or no sun exposure.
Caffeine (in coffee, tea, cola, energy drinks) can reduce the absorption of calcium so drink them separately to when you are eating calcium rich foods.
Oxalates and phytates
These are naturally occurring products in plant-based foods which can limit the absorption of minerals like calcium and iron. However, if you are having plenty of different calcium sources during the day and following a mixed diet this should be a concern.
Information for special groups
Particular groups may be at risk of calcium deficiency such as those that restrict cow’s milk (and not replacing adequately), breastfeeding women, post-menopausal women and men over 55 years.
Certain medications for breast cancer can lower bone density and increase the risk of osteoporosis in both pre-premenopausal women and postmenopausal women so ensuring these women meet their daily calcium needs is important.
Useful reading and references:
Calcium and Vegan diets available here: https://www.pennutrition.com/docviewer.aspx?id=12993
If you would like more help or to check if your diet is providing your daily calcium needs book your call today