The importance of calcium in the diet

Benefits of calcium

Calcium is a vital part of us. Not only are our bones mostly made up of calcium, but this mineral is involved in an array of other functions including the production of hormones and enzymes, nutrient transport, nerve function, muscle contraction and blood clotting, to name but a few. Getting enough calcium in your diet is crucial to health and is particularly important in times of growth, during pregnancy and when breast-feeding.

Deficiency of calcium in the diet is associated with ‘brittle bone disease’ or osteoporosis. This is a common condition, affecting one in three women and one in twelve men over the age of fifty in the UK. And while the signs of osteoporosis are mostly seen in older people, we can all take action to prevent this disease.

Characteristics such as age, race, sex and genetic make-up influence an individual’s risk of developing osteoporosis and although we cannot change these risk factors, we can influence modifiable factors. To help prevent osteoporosis, we can increase our level of physical activity, stop smoking, limit our alcohol intake to a maximum of 28 units per week for men and 21 units for women and ensure adequate calcium and vitamin D intake.

Hormone (oestrogen) replacement therapy can also help post-menopausal women. All of these strategies can help maintain bone density, vital for preventing osteoporosis in later life.

Boost your calcium intake

Taking plenty of milk and dairy products throughout the day is the best way to boost your calcium intake. Three to four portions each day of yoghurt, milk, buttermilk, fromage frais and cheese will give you all the calcium you need to reach your requirements – but remember to stick to the lower fat versions!

And if you don’t take dairy products, there are plenty of alternatives that provide calcium, such as bread, canned fish, fortified orange juice and mineral water, leafy green vegetables including broccoli, spinach, cabbage and kale, fennel, nuts and seeds.

Deficiency of calcium

Deficiency of calcium can also result from an inadequate supply of vitamin D, which is essential for the absorption of calcium from food. Our main source of Vitamin D is sunshine so taking your exercise outside on these brighter evenings will boost your vitamin supply and increase bone density as well as help you keep fit!

What you do now really will make all the difference to your bone health down the line.

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