Calcium is essential for healthy bones and teeth, and the proper functioning of the heart. A low intake of calcium has been associated with osteoporosis, which weakens the bones of our body and can lead to fractures.
Our bones increase in strength and density from childhood until our mid-20s. Bone mass increases by about sevenfold from birth to puberty, threefold during adolescence, and then remains stable until about age 50 in men and until menopause in women. This affects how much calcium we need at different stages of our lives.
Source: Nutrient Reference Values: Calcium
Dairy products are the richest source of calcium. This includes milk, cheese and yoghurt. Yellow-topped milk has extra calcium added. A number of non-dairy foods also contain calcium, calcium-set tofu, sardines, some nuts (such as almonds), sesame seeds, broccoli, and fortified breakfast cereals and juices. Several plant-based milks are fortified with calcium e.g., soy milk, and almond milk. Read the label to check that it is fortified with calcium (as not all are).
Foods such as spinach, rhubarb, beans, seeds, nuts and whole grains also contain calcium but also contain oxalic or phytic acid which reduces the amount of calcium that can be used by the body.
Vitamin D and calcium work together, with vitamin D helping to increase the absorption of calcium from food. Smoking and too much caffeine, salt and protein can cause calcium to be lost from the body.
Ministry of Health (2020) Eating and Activity Guidelines for New Zealand Adults. Wellington: Ministry of Health
National Health and Medical Research Council (Australia) and Ministry of Health (New Zealand) (2014) Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand: Calcium.
Last modified: July 1, 2022