Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, and serves many crucial functions, including building and maintaining strong bones and teeth, making muscles and nerves work, clotting blood and keeping your heart beating regularly. The average adult’s weight is made up of about two per cent calcium. Most of this is found in the skeleton and teeth – the rest is stored in the tissues or blood. Calcium is vital for healthy teeth and bones.
For women, adult bone mass peaks at about age 30. With aging, bone loss gradually happens and then becomes increased after menopause. So it is important for young women to build good bone mass and for older women to do what they can to maintain it. Osteoporosis, which is common in women, is a disease that causes bones to become thin, weak and prone to fractures. Osteoporosis can have multiple causes and be genetic – but long-term, low calcium levels are one thing that can lead to it. One in three women over 50 will have an osteoporotic fracture in her lifetime, compared to one in five men.
Getting enough calcium in your diet is one important way to keep your bones strong and healthy. Dairy, including cheese, milk and yogurt, is a rich source of calcium, but you can also get calcium from foods like broccoli, collards, kale, mustard greens, bok choy, salmon, sardines, almonds, sunflower seeds, and fortified juices, cereals and breads.
Bones need plenty of calcium and vitamin D throughout childhood and adolescence to reach their peak strength and calcium content. Our bones slowly lose calcium as we age, but people can help reduce these losses by getting recommended amounts of calcium throughout adulthood and by having a healthy, active lifestyle that includes weight-bearing physical activity, such as walking and running.
Over the past few years, calcium has been getting attention due to its slimming effects on the metabolism. Studies have shown that calcium may prevent weight gain because it promotes more fat to be burned and less fat to be stored. Experts suggest three servings of dairy every day while also reducing calories in other areas of your diet to accommodate your increased dairy intake.
Calcium-rich foods are an important part of a bone-healthy lifestyle that can not only reduce the risk of fractures as you get older, but may also protect against certain cancers. People at different life stages need different amounts of calcium – young children, teenagers and older women all have greater than average requirements.