Benefits of Calcium & RDA

Benefits of calcium

Benefits of calciumCalcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body. More than 99% of the body’s calcium is found in the bones and teeth. The remaining 1% is found throughout the body in blood, muscle, and the fluid within our cells.1

Bone is not a static tissue, it is dynamic. While the bones have an obvious structural role, they also serve as the body’s reservoir (reserves pool) for calcium. If calcium levels in our blood drop, the body undergoes a process to remove calcium from the bones to support this. Once our blood calcium levels are restored then calcium is returned to the bones to be rebuilt. The balance of these two activities determines whether bone is being added or lost in any particular person at any particular time.

Osteoporosis is when the bones lose minerals more quickly than the body can replace them. This causes the bones to become less dense, brittle and fragile. They are less resistant to normal stresses, leading to a higher risk of fractures and breaks. Calcium provides rigidity and strength in bones and may help in the prevention and treatment of bone conditions such as osteoporosis.

Calcium is also an essential mineral required for proper functioning of numerous cellular processes, including2:

  • muscle contraction
  • nerve conduction
  • blood coagulation
  • hormone release
  • energy production
  • maintenance of the immune system

How much calcium do I need?

Your gender, age, health status, and diet all play significant roles in helping determine how much calcium you need. Below are the recommended daily allowances for calcium from the NHMRC (National Health and Medical Research Centre – Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand).

Age

Male

Female

Pregnant

Lactating

0–6 months* 200 mg 200 mg    
7–12 months* 260 mg 260 mg    
1–3 years 700 mg 700 mg    
4–8 years 1,000 mg 1,000 mg    
9–13 years 1,300 mg 1,300 mg    
14–18 years 1,300 mg 1,300 mg 1,300 mg 1,300 mg
19–50 years 1,000 mg 1,000 mg 1,000 mg 1,000 mg
51–70 years 1,000 mg 1,200 mg    
71+ years 1,200 mg 1,200 mg    
Table 1: Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Calcium

*Adequate Intake (AI)

Natural sources of calcium

Natural sources of calciumCalcium is predominantly found in dairy foods such as cheese, yoghurt, milk and ice cream. Dairy and fish with bones, such as salmon and sardines, has the highest concentration per serving of calcium.4 Other calcium sources include dark green vegetables, amaranth, beans, blackstrap molasses, broccoli, collard greens, dandelion leaves, figs, high-calcium mineral water, kale, nuts and seeds (like almonds and sesame), okra, rutabaga, quinoa, seaweeds (kelp, wakame, hijiki), fortified products (orange juice, soy milk, almond milk).3

Refer to the table below for various foods and their calcium content.4

Food Std Serving Size Calcium (MG) Kilojoules
Rump Steak (lean) 100g 5 883
Apples 1 medium 156g 7 323
Lamp Chop (lean) 100g 8 1000
Bread – mixed grain 30g (slice) 15 272
Bread – wholemeal 30g (slice) 16 282
Chicken – roasted no skin 100g 16 783
Broccoli 60g 18 61
Strawberries 1 cup (145g) 19 118
Eggs – boiled 1 large (48g) 21 303
Baked Beans 100g 34 285
Oranges 1 medium (122g) 35 190
Apricots – dried 50g 35 410
Spinach 100g 50 80
Tahini 20g (1tbsp) 65 520
Soy beans (boiled) 100g 76 540
Custard 100g 100 393
Almonds 50g 110 1235
Ice Cream 100g 133 800
Tofu (calcium set) 100g 150 479
Salmon – tinned, red 100g 220 814
Sardines – canned 100g 380 951
Cheese – mild 40g piece 300 676
Cheddar reduced fat 40g 2 slices 323 548
Cheddar Cheese 40g 2 slices 327 575
Yoghurt – Low fat 200g (std tub) 316 738
Yoghurt – plain 200g (std tub) 390 716
Milk – regular 250ml (std glass) 285 698
Milk – reduced fat 250ml (std glass) 352 525
Milk – skim 250ml (std glass) 320 377
Milk – calcium fortified 250ml (std glass) 353 523

 

Who needs to eat what?

How many serves of calcium rich foods?

Children 5-9 years

2-3 serves per day

Children and adolescents 9-18 years

3 serves per day

Adults up to the age of 51 years

2 serves per day

Postmenopausal women

3 serves per day

Adults over 70 years

Approximately 4 serves

Table 2: Who Needs to Eat What?4

How do I know if I am deficient in calcium?2

Calcium is an essential mineral which means it cannot be manufactured in the body. We therefore must consume it through the diet or risk becoming deficient. Many diets, including vegan where animal foods are omitted, may be deficient in calcium.3 Low levels of calcium may lead to symptoms of muscle pain or spasms or bone pain, but the symptoms of deficiency are often asymptomatic (meaning there are no symptoms) until they reach a more serious condition such as osteomalacia (bone softening) or osteoporosis (bone thinning).2 If you think you are at risk, or have any concerns a discussion with your healthcare professional is recommended.

Calcium deficiency: am I at risk?

Lifestyle Factors

Lifestyle Factors There are some lifestyle factors that interfere with calcium levels. If you smoke, consume caffeinated drinks regularly, or have a diet low in calcium (are a vegan or are lactose intolerant) you may have an increased need for calcium. A lack of exercise and familial history can also increase calcium requirements.

Children and Adolescence

Calcium is essential to bone growth and development. Children and adolescents may require additional calcium to meet maximal bone growth. Calcium is required for bone strength and mass which predominantly occurs during childhood and adolescence. This increase in bone mineral density in teenagers is responsibly for reducing the risk on bone thinning and weakness in late adulthood. Children and adolescents may require additional calcium to meet maximal bone growth.

Pregnancy

There are stages through life when you may have an increased need for calcium. Pregnancy is one of these. At this time extra calcium is required for foetal skeletal growth. Maternal vitamin D requirements can also increase up to 4 to 5-fold to facilitate the availability of extra calcium requirements.5

Menopause

After menopause there is a fall in oestrogen. This puts our bones at risk because oestrogen helps to keep calcium within bone. With menopause there is a decrease in oestrogen, an increase in bone resorption (break down) and a decrease in calcium absorption into bone.

Taking extra calcium at this time may reduce the loss of calcium from bone. Importantly, vitamin D intake needs to be adequate also as it is enhances calcium’s absorption.

Elderly

The elderly have an increased need too because as we age we absorb calcium less efficiently from our foods.

Can I consume too much calcium?

An excessively high level of calcium in the blood is known as Hypercalciuria. This affects about 5-10% of the population.5 Eating a healthy balanced diet ensures you will be receiving a variety of nutrients whilst avoiding too much of any one, including calcium. The important thing is balance.

If you are using a supplement, use only as directed on the label and if you have any concerns, contact your healthcare professional.

Can medications deplete calcium levels?

Can medications deplete calcium levels? Some medications may deplete calcium levels.2 However, before starting any supplements, it’s important that you discuss your health situation and concerns with your healthcare professional.

What are the different types of calcium?

There are many forms of calcium available on the market and this can easily cause confusion. Two popular forms of calcium in supplements are carbonate and citrate.7 Calcium carbonate is more commonly available and is both inexpensive and convenient.7 Due to its dependence on stomach acid for absorption, calcium carbonate is absorbed most efficiently when taken with food, whereas calcium citrate is absorbed equally well when taken with or without food. Calcium citrate is also useful for people with low stomach acid, or absorption disorders.7 Other calcium forms in supplements or fortified foods include gluconate, lactate, and phosphate.