Calcium – an investment in your future bone health!

Did you know your diet plays an important role in determining the health of your bones, and that good nutrition throughout life can reduce your risk of Osteoporosis?

Healthy bones require a range of different nutrients and eating a variety of foods from all of the 5 food groups is the best way to keep your bones strong and healthy throughout life.

Dairy foods and drinks get a lot of attention for bone health – and for good reason – this food group is an excellent source of calcium, which is not only the most abundant mineral in our body – but in our bones too. About 99 % of the body’s calcium is found within our bones and helps to make them strong and rigid. Calcium is important for not only building healthy bones – but keeping them strong later in life.

People are often surprised to learn that the composition of our bones is changing constantly – every day we’re building new bone and breaking down existing bone– and we’re both storing and losing calcium from our bones.

In the earlier years of life, from birth to adolescents, we’re very good at storing calcium and building strong, healthy bones – during this time we store more calcium than we lose. By our twenties we’ve reached what is called “peak bone mass”, where our bone minerals stores are at their highest and our bones are at their strongest.  As we age, our bones gradually lose minerals and strength, with certain life stages such as menopause increasing the losses.

This is why it’s crucial that children and adolescents eat and drink enough calcium rich foods and drinks in these early bone-forming years, to ensure they have adequate mineral stores to keep their bones strong and healthy later in life.

This certainly doesn’t mean calcium intake becomes less important for our bone health as we age, with ample research showing that consuming adequate amounts of calcium throughout life can delay or reduce age-related bone loss and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.

Furthermore, although most of the calcium in our body is in bones and teeth, calcium has many other vital roles in our body, and so if we don’t provide enough calcium through our diet, our body is forced to take stores from our bones, which over time leads to weaker bones and a higher risk of osteoporosis and fractures.

How can I make sure I’m getting enough Calcium?

Research has found that 50% of Australians are not getting enough calcium. The easiest way to ensure you’re getting enough calcium is to meet the recommended daily serves from the Dairy Group: Milk, yoghurt and many cheeses are all excellent sources of calcium, which is easily absorbed.  Studies have shown that children you don’t drink milk regularly have a lower intake of calcium and poorer bone health than kids who drink milk regularly.

One serve of dairy is the equivalent to: 1 cup (250mls) of milk, a tub (200ml) of yoghurt, 2 slices (40g) of cheese or 120ml of evaporated unsweetened milk.

The number of serves of dairy you need each day depends on your age and gender: number of serves kids should be aiming for and number of serves adults should be aiming for.

Although dairy foods and drinks are one of the richest and best absorbed sources of calcium, calcium is found in a range of other foods and drinks, such as:

  • Non-dairy milk alternatives, such as soy milk, provided they have calcium added to them – ensure all non-dairy milk substitutes have at least 100mg of added calcium per 100g.
  • Fish with edible bones, such as sardines and tinned salmon;
  • firm tofu,
  • dark leafy green vegetables, broccoli, bok choy, kale,
  • Some nuts and seeds, such as almonds, sesame seeds, brazil nuts and unhulled tahini (sesame seed paste)

Several foods are also now available with added calcium, such as orange juice, breads and cereals.

For a list of the amount of calcium content of different foods and drinks, see this resource from Osteoporosis Australia.

Don’t forget the Vitamin D!

Unfortunately, a diet rich in food sources of calcium isn’t enough to ensure our body has enough calcium for healthy bones – we must also have adequate Vitamin D stores! Vitamin D plays a crucial role in allowing our body to absorb the calcium from our food and drink and to store calcium in our bone. To find out more about Vitamin D and how you can ensure you’re getting enough, have a read of this article from Dietitians Association of Australia.

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