Calcium is an important mineral and has several functions in our body, we have more calcium than any other mineral. About 99% of the calcium in our bodies is in our bones and teeth.
Calcium is a mineral that is necessary for life. In addition to building strong bones and teeth and keeping them healthy, calcium helps our blood clot, nerves send messages and muscles contract including heartbeat. Each day, we lose calcium through our skin, nails, hair, sweat, urine and faeces, but our bodies cannot produce new calcium. When we don’t get enough calcium for our body’s needs, it is taken from our bones and this could lead to a condition called rickets in children or osteoporosis in later life.
Although a balanced diet aids calcium absorption, high levels of protein and sodium (salt) in the diet are thought to increase calcium excretion through the kidneys. Excessive amounts of these substances should be avoided, especially in those with low calcium intake.
Good sources of calcium include:
- Milk, cheese and other dairy foods
- Green leafy vegetables – such as broccoli, kale, cabbage, okra, raw spinach
- Soya beans
- Soya drinks with added calcium
- Almonds, Brazil nuts, sesame, sunflower, chia seeds
- Bread and anything made with fortified flour
- Fish where you eat the bones – such as sardines and pilchards
Going hand in hand with calcium is Vitamin D which the body needs to absorb the calcium. Without enough vitamin D, one can’t form enough of the hormone calcitriol (known as the “active vitamin D”). This in turn leads to insufficient calcium absorption from the diet, and the body takes calcium from its stores in the skeleton, which weakens existing bone and prevents the formation of strong, new bone.
Vitamin D is naturally available in only a few foods and good sources are:
- Oily fish – such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel
- Red meat
- Egg yolks
- Fortified foods such as most fat spreads, some plant based beverages and some breakfast cereals
Your skin makes vitamin D from the ultra-violet light (UVB rays) in sunlight and your body is able to store the vitamin and use it later. The amount of vitamin D your skin makes depends on time of day, season, latitude, skin pigmentation and other factors. Because of concerns about skin cancer, many people stay out of the sun, and the use of sunscreen or sunblock is probably the biggest factor that limits the ability of the skin to make Vitamin D. Vitamin D production may decrease or be totally absent in the winter months dependant on where you live.
It is very difficult to get all the vitamin D you need from food alone and some people choose to take vitamin D supplements to get enough of the nutrient needed for bone health.
And do remember that as well as ensuring you have a healthy diet that includes calcium and Vitamin D, exercise is important for building and maintaining strong bones, weight-bearing and muscle-strengthening activities. Weight-bearing exercises are any activity performed standing up, such as walking, running and dancing. When your feet and legs support your weight, your bones have to work harder, making them stronger. Your personal trainer can help you to ensure your diet and your exercise routine is helping you to build and maintain strong bones.