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Calcium

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.

How much calcium do we need?

 Age (years)RDI Calcium (mg/day)
Infants and Toddlers1-3500
Children4-8
700
9-111000
12-181300
Men19-701000
Over 701300
Women19-501000
Over 501300
Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women14-181300
19-501000

Source: Nutrient Reference Values: Calcium

Who needs more Calcium?

  • Growing youngsters, especially teenagers, need calcium every day to maximise the strength of their skeleton.
  • Bone loss is accelerated with the hormonal changes following menopause and age, meaning women after menopause and men over 70 require extra calcium to maintain their bone mass.

Which foods contain 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.

Calcium Content of Foods

Food/beveragePractical serveCalcium (mg)
1 cup lite blue top or trim milk1 cup (250ml)360
Cottage cheese (light)1 tablespoon (16g)14
Edam cheese2cm cube (8g)75
Yoghurt1 pottle (150g)
195
Sour cream1 tablespoon (15g)13
Soy drink (calcium-fortified)1 cup (251ml)286
Tofu100g105
Wholegrain bread1 slice (45g)33
Sardines1 sardine66
Almonds (raw)10 almonds30
Brazil nuts (raw)10 brazil nuts68
Sesame seeds1 tablespoon (9g)88
Broccoli boiled1 cup (164g)59

How much do we need to eat?

  • 2 to 3 servings of dairy products each day will help to meet your calcium needs.
  • A serve is a cup of milk, a pottle of yoghurt, 2 slices of cheese.
  • Choose low or reduced-fat dairy products which contain as much calcium as other varieties, but less fat.
  • If you avoid dairy foods, choose a variety of other calcium-containing foods, as shown in the table below and ensure to choose calcium-fortified plant-based dairy alternatives.

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.

References

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