Calcium

What is it and why is it so important?

Introduction

Calcium is an essential mineral. Most of us know that calcium is needed for bone health, but it has other functions in the body too!

Roles of Calcium

Along with bone health, calcium has many other roles in the body, it:

Contributes to normal

BLOOD CLOTTING

Supports normal energy-yielding

METABOLISM

(the release of energy from foods)

Contributes to normal

NEUROTRANSMISSION

(the delivery of messages between nerve cells)

Contributes to normal

NEURO-

TRANSMISSION

(the delivery of messages between nerve cells)

Supports normal

MUSCLE FUNCTION

Has a role in the process of 

CELL DIVISION & SPECIALISATION

Supports normal function of 

DIGESTIVE ENZYMES

Importance of Calcium for bone health throughout life

CHILDREN

Calcium is needed for growth and development of bone in children. Physical activity is important too!

TEENAGERS

Around 90% of the adult skeleton is formed by the age of 18.
Teenage girls need 800mg calcium a day and teenage boys 1000mg a day.

PREGNANCY & BREAST-FEEDING

There is no increase in calcium requirements during pregnancy. Breastfeeding women need an extra 550mg calcium a day.

ADULTS

Bones continue to strengthen until our mid-thirties.

MENOPAUSE

An extra 500mg calcium* is recommended to help reduce loss of bone mineral in post-menopausal women.

* Calcium helps to reduce loss of bone mineral in post-menopausal women. Low bone mineral density is a risk factor for osteoporosis.

Lifestyle and bone health

Like muscles, our bones need regular exercise to keep them strong. Weight-bearing activities, where our feet and legs support our weight, are particularly good for bones. These include running, skipping and dancing, even brisk walking.  Adults should aim for at least 2½ hours per week, with muscle strengthening activities 2 days a week.
Not smoking and limiting alcohol intake are also good for bone health.

At least 2.5 hours per week

For more information on lifestyle and bone health, check out the Royal Osteoporosis Society’s Bone Health Checklist 

Dairy foods and calcium

Including milk, cheese and yogurt in the diet is a great way to help meet our calcium needs.

The table on page 11 shows the recommended calcium intakes for different ages, as well as the portion sizes that can help meet these needs.

Calcium isn’t the only bone-friendly nutrient that milk, cheese and yogurt provide! They also contain protein and phosphorus, both of which support the maintenance of normal bones.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium from foods.
The body makes vitamin D from the action of direct sunlight on skin. In the UK this is possible between April and September.
However, between October and March, our bodies can’t make enough vitamin D from sunlight so we need to rely on vitamin D from the diet.
As there are only a few natural food sources of vitamin D, all adults and children over the age of one are advised to consider taking a daily supplement of 10µg (micrograms) vitamin D, especially during autumn and winter.
A daily supplement of 10µg vitamin D is recommended all year round for:
  • all pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • babies and young children
  • those aged 65 years and over
  • people with darker skin
  • people who spend lots of time indoors.

For more information on vitamin D, visit The British Dietetic Association’s Food Fact Sheet on Vitamin D 

DOWNLOAD FACTSHEET

Calcium recommendations by age group

Milk

Yogurt

Cheese

Age 1-3 years

Calcium needs (RNI*) 350mg/day
PORTION SIZE:
100ml whole/semi-skimmed milk
CALCIUM CONTENT:
120mg
PORTION SIZE:
60g whole plain yogurt
CALCIUM CONTENT:
120mg
PORTION SIZE:
15g Cheddar cheese
CALCIUM CONTENT:
111mg
These portion sizes provide approximately 351mg calcium

Age 4-5 years

Calcium needs (RNI*) 450mg/day
PORTION SIZE:
189ml school carton semi-skimmed milk
CALCIUM CONTENT:
227mg
PORTION SIZE:
80g whole plain yogurt
CALCIUM CONTENT:
160mg
PORTION SIZE:
20g Cheddar cheese
CALCIUM CONTENT:
148mg
These portion sizes provide approximately 535mg calcium

Age 7-10 years

Calcium needs (RNI*) 550mg/day
PORTION SIZE:
189ml school carton semi-skimmed milk
CALCIUM CONTENT:
227mg
PORTION SIZE:
125g low-fat plain yogurt
CALCIUM CONTENT:
203mg
PORTION SIZE:
20g Cheddar cheese
CALCIUM CONTENT:
148mg
These portion sizes provide approximately 578mg calcium

Male Age 11-18 years

Calcium needs (RNI*) 1000mg/day
PORTION SIZE:
284ml semi-skimmed milk
CALCIUM CONTENT:
341mg
PORTION SIZE:
200g low-fat plain yogurt
CALCIUM CONTENT:
324mg
PORTION SIZE:
45g Cheddar cheese
CALCIUM CONTENT:
333mg
These portion sizes provide approximately 998mg calcium

Female Age 11-18 years

Calcium needs (RNI*) 800mg/day
(extra 550mg during breastfeeding)
PORTION SIZE:
250ml semi-skimmed milk
CALCIUM CONTENT:
300mg
PORTION SIZE:
200g low-fat plain yogurt
CALCIUM CONTENT:
280mg
PORTION SIZE:
30g Cheddar cheese
CALCIUM CONTENT:
222mg
These portion sizes provide approximately 832mg calcium

19 years and over

Calcium needs (RNI*) 700mg/day
(extra 550mg during breastfeeding)
PORTION SIZE:
200ml semi-skimmed milk
CALCIUM CONTENT:
240mg
PORTION SIZE:
150g low-fat plain yogurt
CALCIUM CONTENT:
243mg
PORTION SIZE:
30g Cheddar cheese
CALCIUM CONTENT:
222mg
These portion sizes provide approximately 705mg calcium
* RNI, Reference Nutrient Intake, is a figure set by the Department of Health for the amount of a nutrient that is enough to meet the dietary needs of most people (97.5%).

Other food sources of calcium

per adult portion:

Sardines

(with edible bones) (500mg calcium / 100g canned)

Calcium-fortified bran cereal

(99mg calcium / 30g)

Almonds*

(60mg / 25g)

Okra*

(96mg / 80g)

Sesame seeds*

(67mg / 10g)

Red kidney beans*

(canned) (25mg / tbsp)

Fortified white bread

(64mg / 35g)

Kale*

(120mg / 80g boiled)
A balanced and varied diet should provide enough calcium to meet our requirements. If you take a calcium supplement, make sure your total intake doesn’t exceed 1500mg/day as this may cause stomach pain and diarrhoea.

Children under five years old shouldn’t be given whole nuts because of the risk of choking. Those with a medically diagnosed allergy to any of the pictured foods should avoid them.

However, these foods* shouldn’t be relied on as your main source of calcium. This is because they contain other compounds which can reduce the amount of calcium absorbed by the body.