We’ve all heard that calcium is good for you, but do you know just how important it is?

Calcium is an essential part of a healthy diet. It’s crucial to maintaining bone health, with almost 99% of the body’s calcium found in the bones. It’s essential for maintaining a healthy, functioning heart, muscles, blood and nerves.

What does calcium do in the body?

Calcium plays a crucial role in:

  • Strengthening bones and teeth
  • Regulating muscle functions
  • Regulating heart functions
  • Blood clotting
  • Transmission of nervous messages
  • Enzyme functions

Calcium is continually deposited into bone cells. In childhood and adolescence it is important to building strong bones. Once we reach our growth maturity our calcium needs stabilise. As we get older our bones start to become less dense, more brittle and likely to break and our needs increase again.

How much calcium do I need?

According to an Australian Nutrition Survey about 90% of women and 70% of children aren’t getting enough calcium. Our calcium needs vary throughout different ages and life stages.

  • 0-6 months: 210mg (for breastfed babies) and 350mg (for formula fed).
  • 7-12 months: 270mg
  • 1-3 years: 500mg
  • 4-8 years: 700mg
  • 9-11 years: 1,000mg
  • 12 – 18 years: 1,300mg
  • Women 19-50 (including pregnant and breastfeeding): 1,000mg
  • Women 51 – 70: 1,300mg
  • Men 19-70: 1,000mg
  • Adults over 70: 1,300mg

Calcium rich foods

The best source of calcium is through food. You might recall your mum constantly telling you to drink more milk? Well she was onto something there but if you have allergies, or just don’t like milk there are other options. Calcium rich foods include:

  • Dairy products: Such as milk, yoghurt, cheese and buttermilk. One cup of milk or a 200g tub of yoghurt provides around 300mg of calcium.
  • Green leafy vegetables: Such as broccoli, bok choy, kale and spinach are great sources of calcium.
  • Soy and tofu
  • Fish: sardines and salmon with bones
  • Nuts and seeds: Brazil nuts, almonds, sesame seed paste.
  • Calcium fortified foods: cereals, bread, juice.

It is recommended that you receive 3-5 serves of calcium rich foods per day. It’s important to remember that not all the calcium we consume is absorbed. Small amounts can be lost and excreted and this is taken into consideration with the recommended guidelines.

While it is normal for some amounts of calcium to be lost there are some other factors which can lead to low calcium levels, including:

  • Low vitamin D levels
  • Excessive caffeine and alcohol
  • High phytates or oxalates in your diets
  • Medical conditions (e.g. coeliac disease, kidney disease)
  • Medicines: (e.g. prednisone, prednisolone)