Calcium plays a key role in bone health and muscle contraction. Here we explain what foods contain calcium and how this vital mineral contributes to total body health.
What is Calcium?
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body. It has several important functions – including regulating muscle contraction and heart rate. It’s particularly important for bone health playing a vital role in building optimum bone mass between the ages of 18 and 25. This is when the bones take up most calcium, due to hormonal changes and fast bone growth. The body, however, needs calcium every day, being vital for proper muscle and heart function, and to assist in Vitamin D metabolism. Vitamin D helps the body absorb and retain calcium.
- Milk, cheese and other dairy foods.
- Green leafy vegetables: kale, watercress, broccoli, cabbage and okra, (not spinach).
- Sea vegetables and seaweeds
- Soya beans and tofu.
- Drinks such as soya milk, coconut milk and almond milk, with added calcium.
- Nuts and seeds – especially almonds, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds.
- Dried figs
- Food fortified with calcium including bread and cereals.
- Bony fish (sardines and pilchards).
The Benefits of Calcium
- Bones: Helps build strong bones and teeth (research shows that drinking calcium-rich milk can reduce risk of stress fracture amongst runners). Calcium deficiency can lead to rickets and osteoporosis (brittle bone disease).
- Heart and muscle function: Regulates muscle contractions, including heartbeat, and ensures that the blood clots normally.
- Weight loss: Taking three to four servings of low fat dairy a day may, according to researchers (Davies et al. 2000; Zemel et al 2000), help the body’s fat burning mechanism, and has a role to play in maintaining a healthy weight.
When to supplement?
- For most of us we should be able to get all the calcium we need by eating a varied and balanced diet. Most adults need 700-1000mg of calcium a day.
- Hypocalcaemia (calcium deficiency) can be as a result of many different issues, including: faddy dieting, eating disorders such as bulimia/anorexia; over consumption of sodium and processed foods, and malabsorption problems such as IBS/Coeliac/Crohn’s disease.
- Post-menopausal women (particularly those who have consumed a lot of caffeine/fizzy drinks and alcohol) may need to supplement to keep their bones strong. Supplements should be combined with vitamin D and magnesium to enhance bone health.
- Note, taking high doses of calcium alone (over 1,500mg a day) may lead to heart problems, and other issues long-term, so supplementing should be done with expect guidance, care and advice of a health professional or nutrition expert.