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7 Tips to Boost Calcium Intake

Updated: Oct 20, 2021

Did you know that most Australian adolescent and adult women are not getting enough calcium? And that being female puts you at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis. Understanding the importance of bone health and how to ensure we maintain bone strength is critical, as women are more likely to develop osteoporosis than men.

Calcium is a mineral essential for building and maintaining bone strength, combining with other minerals to form hard crystals that give our bones its strength and structure, with almost 99% of the body’s calcium is located in the bones. Small amounts of calcium are absorbed into the blood, essential for supporting the healthy functioning of the heart, muscles, blood and nerves. Bones act like a calcium bank, particularly between the ages of childhood through to early adulthood, and if you do not take in enough calcium from your diet, the body will withdraw calcium from your bones for use in other parts of the body. Problems begin to develop when your body starts to withdraw more calcium than it deposits, resulting in a gradual decrease in bone density, placing you at increased risk of developing osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is a bone disease, that causes our bones to become brittle and occurs when bones lose minerals, such as calcium, more quickly than the body can replace them. This loss of bone density or mass, ultimately makes bones weaker, thinner and more fragile. While it can affect all women, white and Asian women are particularly susceptible, especially older women who are past menopause, due to the sharp reduction in oestrogen production, a hormone which helps protect bones, when women reach menopause. This is why calcium requirements for women increase as we age. Osteoporosis generally affects the wrists, spine, hips, and ribs, and is often under-diagnosed, going unnoticed until a break or fracture occurs. Without appropriate interventions, osteoporosis can worsen, causing bones to become thinner and weaker, increasing the risk of breaks and fractures from falls.

Preventative measures to reduce risks and maintain bone strength and integrity include factors such as diet, exercise, and potentially supplementation. Consuming foods high in calcium, in addition to increasing your vitamin D intake are excellent ways to reduce the risks of developing osteoporosis in later life. The RDI for calcium increases as we age, ranging from 1000 mg/day in adolescence, to 1300 mg/day in old age. The best way to get the recommended level of calcium intake for your age is to include 3-5 serves of calcium rich foods in your diet on a daily basis. The best types of exercise for maintaining bone health include weight-bearing exercises such as walking and jogging, and strength training such as weight training and Pilates etc.

Foods high in calcium include:

  • Dairy products (milk, yoghurt, cheese)

  • Green leafy vegetables (broccoli, parsley, silverbeet, bok choy, mustard cabbage)

  • Oily fish (salmon, sardines)

  • Tofu

  • Tahini

  • Almonds

  • Chickpeas

  • Dried fruit (figs & apricots)

  • Fortified products (milk, cereal products)

Tips for increasing calcium intake:

  • Dairy foods contain high levels of calcium and are easily absorbed by the body – try including at least 3 serves each day to your diet. For example a glass of milk (250 ml), tub of yoghurt (200 g), and a slice of cheese (40 g). Low fat options are recommended and contain similar levels of calcium to full fat.

  • Add canned salmon or sardines to salads.

  • Add milk or skim milk powders to soups or casseroles.

  • Try soy based products such as tofu.

  • Include plenty of green leafy vegetables in your meals, including broccoli, mustard cabbage, bok choy, silverbeet, and cucumber.

  • Enjoy a handful of almonds, dried figs and dried apricots as a snack.

  • Use products fortified with calcium,to boost calcium intakes.

If you feel you need extra support, or you may be at risk from developing osteoporosis, then make an appointment with a trusted health professional, who can arrange for testing and create a specified support plan for you.

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