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 the menopause in women. This affects how much calcium we need at different stages of our lives (refer to the table below).

How much calcium do we need?

 
Age (years)
RDI*
Calcium (mg/day)
Infants and Toddlers 1-3        500                    
Children 4-8 700
  9-11 1000
  12-18 1300
Men 19-70 1000
  Over 70 1300
Women 19-70 1000
  Over 70 1300
Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women 14-18 1300
  19-50 1000
*Recommended Daily Intake

Who needs more and why?

  • Growing youngsters, especially teenagers, need calcium every day to maximise the strength of their skeleton.
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women need extra calcium for their own bones, as well as those of their baby.
  • Bone loss is accelerated with age, meaning men over 70 and women after menopause require extra calcium to maintain their bone mass.

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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, including fortified soy and rice milks, tofu, sardines, some nuts (such as almonds), sesame seeds, broccoli, and fortified breakfast cereals and juices.

Foods such as spinach, rhubarb, beans, seeds, nuts and wholegrains have some calcium but also contain oxalic or phytic acid which reduces the amount of calcium that can be used by the body. 
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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.

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Calcium content of foods

Food/beverage

Practical serve

Calcium (mg)

1 cup lite blue top or trim milk

1 cup (250ml)

 310

Cottage cheese

1 tablespoon (15g)

  9

Edam cheese

2cm cube (8g)

75

Yoghurt

1 pottle (150g)

195

Light sour cream

¼ cup (56g)

62

Soy drink (calcium-fortified)

1 cup (251ml)

286

Tofu

100g

105

Wholegrain bread

1 slice (45g)

33

Sardines

1 sardine

66

Almonds (raw)

10 almonds

30

Brazil nuts (raw)

10 brazil nuts

68

Sesame seeds

1 tablespoon (9g)

88

Broccoli boiled

1 cup (164g)

59

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Increasing calcium absorption

Smoking and too much caffeine, salt and protein can cause calcium to be lost from the body.

Vitamin D and calcium work together, with vitamin D helping to increase the absorption of calcium from food.

Page reviewed February 2014