By Michela DiTocco
Calcium is an essential mineral which our body needs to function. Most commonly calcium is associated with bone strength and density; however, our body also uses it to perform other activities such as muscle contractions, nerve impulses, grow strong teeth – the list goes on. Our body absorbs calcium via our diet and utilises it to carry out the necessary functions. Our body cannot produce its own calcium so it is important that we consume adequate amounts of this essential mineral on a daily basis. There are many foods which are rich in calcium, not just milk. All dairy products such as cheese, yoghurt, ice-cream and milk are excellent sources of calcium (just make sure you opt for low fat varieties). Some other foods which contain high amounts of calcium include broccoli, fish (with edible bones), tofu, baked beans, almonds, and hazelnuts. There are a lot of other products available which have been enriched with calcium to help meet the daily requirements, like orange juice, yoghurt, soy products, milk products and other juices. The recommended daily amounts of calcium are: for children <1000mg; for teenagers 1300mg; men & women 1000mg; and elderly men and women 1300mg.
One of the main reasons which we are constantly reminded to consume calcium in our diets is to prevent the onset of osteoporosis. This is a condition where the bones become brittle and lose their density and causes you to become more prone to fractures. This condition affects 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men over 60 years in Australia. It is essential that from a young age you are consuming the RDI of calcium right throughout your life. For women from the age of 16 peak bone mass is around 80%. By age 30, maximum bone mass is reached and gradual bone loss will begin, therefore the stronger your bones are at this time the less risk you have of developing osteoporosis. For older women who have passed through menopause your bodies need for calcium increases and it becomes more difficult for your body to absorb calcium. You doctor may advise you to take calcium supplements and increase your exercise to delay the possible onset.
Calcium can also be taken as a supplement if your diet is not providing enough, under your doctor’s supervision. Such supplements are mainly recommended to women over 50 or men over 70 as their need for calcium increases. Vitamin D also plays an important role in the absorption of calcium in the body. If you become deficient in vitamin D you may also be low in calcium as they work together in the body. The best source of vitamin D is from the sun, as little as 10 minutes a day. It can also be taken in combination with a calcium supplement to improve the absorption rate.
Exercise is also an important with making our bones stronger and improving bone density. It has been well documented the positive association between weight based exercises and improved bone density. Such exercises allow you to work the joints (and not just the muscles) to improve strength and make your bones stronger over time. Also exercises such as walking, running or skipping can also improve bone density and prevent the onset of osteoporosis.
As calcium plays an important role is our day to day lives, it is important to monitor your intake and have your levels checked out by your doctor regularly if you have any concerns. A well designed weight program, by a trainer, can help you understand the benefits of weight training and bone strength and how they go hand in hand with your diet.
By Michela DiTocco