Calcium is an essential mineral that plays a crucial role in maintaining strong and healthy bones. It is the most abundant mineral in the human body, with 99% of it stored in our bones and teeth. It is the main component of our bone, making up about 1/3 of its weight. Apart from providing structural support, calcium also helps in various physiological processes, including muscle function, nerve transmission, and hormone secretion.
Since calcium is not produced by the body, it must be obtained from the foods we consume. Our bodies require vitamin D in order to properly absorb calcium from our diet.
Our bodies will take calcium from the places where it is stored (in our bones) if we do not consume enough of it to maintain them operating normally. As a result, our bones gradually weaken over time, which increases the risk of osteoporosis, a condition in which bones become extremely brittle.
Therefore, it is vital to ensure an adequate intake of calcium through our diet to promote optimal bone health.
In this article, we will digest the importance of calcium for our bones and discuss how to incorporate it into our daily diet.
Importance of Calcium in Bone Health
Bone health is a lifelong process that begins in childhood and continues throughout adulthood. During childhood and adolescence, the body builds bone mass rapidly, reaching its peak around the age of 30. After that, the rate of bone formation slows down, and bone density starts to decline gradually. Insufficient calcium intake during these critical periods can lead to weak bones and increase the risk of osteoporosis and fractures later in life.
Calcium is essential for maintaining bone strength and density because it contributes to the structural framework of bones. Our bones are continuously undergoing a process called remodelling, where old bone tissue is broken down and replaced by new bone tissue. Calcium is necessary for this process, as it provides the raw material required for bone formation.
Additionally, calcium plays a vital role in muscle function, including the contraction and relaxation of muscles. When calcium levels in the body are low, the body draws calcium from the bones to fulfil other physiological needs. Over time, this can weaken the bones and increase the risk of fractures.
Recommended Daily Intake of Calcium
The recommended daily intake of calcium varies depending on age and gender. The following are the recommended amounts of calcium intake:
- Children (1 – 3 years): 700 mg
- Children (4 – 8 years): 1,000 mg
- Adolescents (9 -18 years): 1,300 mg
- Adults (19 – 50 years): 1,000 mg
- Women (51 years and older): 1,200 mg
- Men (51 years and older): 1,000 mg
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women: 1,000-1,300 mg
It is important to note that these are general recommendations, and individual needs may vary based on factors such as overall health, activity level, and existing medical conditions. It is advisable to consult with a professional nutritionist in Bangalore to determine the appropriate calcium intake for your specific circumstances.
Calcium-Rich Food Sources
It is best to obtain calcium from natural food sources whenever possible. Various foods are excellent sources of calcium, including dairy products, leafy green vegetables, nuts, and certain fish.
- Dairy products: Milk, yogurt, and cheese are well-known sources of calcium. Opt for low-fat or skim versions to minimize saturated fat intake.
- Leafy green vegetables: Spinach, kale, collard greens, and broccoli are all rich in calcium. These vegetables are not only a great source of calcium but also provide other essential vitamins and minerals.
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, sesame seeds, and chia seeds are all calcium-rich options. They can be added to salads, smoothies, or enjoyed as a snack.
Fish: Sardines and salmon, especially when consumed with their bones, are excellent sources of calcium.
- Fortified foods: Some food products, such as certain cereals, bread, and plant-based milk alternatives (soy, almond, oat), are fortified with calcium. Check the labels to ensure they contain adequate amounts of calcium
Although you can get enough calcium through your diet, many people find it challenging, especially those who don’t eat dairy products. It is more difficult for vegetarians and people with lactose intolerance to consume enough calcium through food. These people can opt for calcium supplements.
In order to prevent bone loss, postmenopausal women and men over the age of 70 also need to consume extra calcium. If a person does not get enough calcium from their diet, doctors will advise them to take calcium supplements. Although multivitamins occasionally contain calcium, the amount is usually insignificant. Vitamin D, which aids in calcium absorption, is also present in the majority of calcium supplements.
Incorporating Calcium into Your Diet
Here are some practical tips to help you incorporate more calcium into your daily diet:
Include dairy products: Consume milk, yogurt, and cheese regularly. Add milk to your morning cereal or coffee, enjoy yogurt as a snack or in smoothies, and incorporate cheese into meals or salads.
Embrace leafy greens: Make salads, stir-fries, or sautéed vegetables with calcium-rich greens like spinach, kale, or collard greens.
Snack on nuts and seeds: Keep a handful of almonds or a small pack of seeds as a convenient and nutritious snack option.
Try calcium-rich recipes: Explore recipes that include calcium-rich ingredients like broccoli, salmon, or sardines. Experiment with new flavours and cooking methods to make them more enjoyable.
Choose fortified products: If you have dietary restrictions or preferences, opt for fortified foods like plant-based milk alternatives or cereals to ensure an adequate calcium intake.
Consult a healthcare professional: If you struggle to meet your calcium needs through diet alone, consult a healthcare professional who can recommend appropriate calcium supplements based on your specific requirements.