Keeping Calcium in your Bones

Let’s start with why it’s so important to get enough calcium in our diets.  Most of us associate it with keeping our bones strong and that’s exactly right, but it’s not the whole story.  You see calcium is actually a vital mineral involved in keeping our nerves firing properly, our muscles contracting efficiently including cardiac muscle and maintaining a consistent pH level in our blood.  The body sees these functions as a priority (thank goodness!) and if our dietary intake of calcium falls below what we need to carry out these functions, it will start to remove calcium from our bones – we have cells called osteoclasts which break down bone to release the calcium into our bloodstream.  Obviously, this a short-term fix because in the long run it’s not a good solution for our bones as it can lead to conditions such as osteoporosis.   

We’ve always been told that dairy containing foods are the best way to increase dietary intake of calcium and it’s true they pack a punch when it comes to calcium, with 250ml of milk providing 304mg of calcium.  BUT what if you don’t consume dairy?  Many of us don’t for a variety of reasons such as intolerance to lactose or casein, or because we choose to eat a plant-based diet.  There are many non-dairy calcium options available but it’s also important to look at how you can reduce calcium loss in your body. Here’s a few tips below:

Preventing Calcium Loss from the Body

As I touched on earlier in this article, our diets and the environment in which we live can have an effect on our calcium requirements and lead to increased calcium loss from our bones.  Here’s some factors which can lead to increased calcium loss:

  • High protein diets, especially from animal sources (another vote for eating a more plant-based diet!)
  • High sodium diets
  • Caffeine
  • Smoking

Happily, there are also factors which help to stabilise calcium in our bones and help to build their strength:

  • Regular exercise
  • Safe exposure to sunlight to stimulate vitamin D production in our skin
  • Eating a diet full of antioxidant containing foods such as colourful fruit and vegetables
  • Ensuring adequate consumption of calcium from plant-based sources

The current recommended daily intake (RDI) of calcium for adults 19-50 is 1000mg/day.  While there are many plant-based foods which contain moderate levels of calcium such as sesame seeds, almonds and green leafy vegetables, it does require being vigilant to ensure you meet the 1000mg/day requirement.  For those who are not vegan, the addition of fish such as sardines can really help to boost your calcium levels, with a 90g can of sardines providing 486mg of calcium – that more than that drink of milk we talked about earlier!

Larissa Gilroy

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