Medical experts say that a well balanced diet should provide enough calcium for our needs, but why exactly do we need it, and how do we know we’re getting enough?
Calcium is a crucial mineral because it helps build a stronger skeleton. In everyday life, small amounts of calcium are lost from our bones so it’s important to eat a diet rich in calcium to keep levels topped up. A lack of calcium, particularly in childhood and teenage years, can result in weakened bones, even osteoporosis in later life. In children, a lack of calcium causes rickets, a condition that affects bone development.
Only dairy made?
We’re used to being advised to build up our calcium levels by drinking milk and eating other dairy products, such as cheese and butter. It’s true that milk and dairy are major providers of calcium in the British diet, but there are other valuable sources of the mineral. Oily fish, almonds, spring greens, kale and spinach can all make a valuable contribution to the recommended daily intake of 800mg for an adult.
Ideally, our diet should include a variety of calcium-rich foods including a couple of portions of dairy every day. As well as being a rich source of bone-building calcium, dairy also provides important nutrients like vitamin B2, essential for energy, and iodine, important for a healthy thyroid.
So what should I eat?
You don’t have to eat shedloads of calcium rich foods to take in the recommended 800g. Here’s a list of the calcium content of everyday foods.
* 300ml skimmed milk provides 360mg
* 150g pot of natural yogurt contains 285mg
* 200g can baked beans contains 106mg
* 100g cooked spring greens contains 75mg
* one orange contains 75mg
It’s best to consume most of your day-to-day dairy from in the form of low fat products, such as a glass of 1% or semi-skimmed milk, or pot of low fat yogurt, to avoid racking up high intakes of saturated fat and calories. Cheese is fine as one of your dairy portions, but stick to a matchbox-size portion when you’re eating hard and full fat varieties.
What if I can’t take dairy?
Unfortunately, not everyone can tolerate dairy products. A small number of people have a true allergy (caused by the immune system reacting to one or more of the proteins in milk). More common is lactose intolerance (when the body cannot properly digest the sugar in milk) leading to stomach pain, bloating and discomfort.
For adults who experience a milk allergy, dairy products should to be taken off the menu altogether. Products such as calcium-fortified soy, rice and almond milk and soya yogurts are good substitutes.
With lactose intolerance, most sufferers have a threshold level of dairy intake that keeps them symptom free provided they don’t exceed it. But it’s worth checking out the low lactose-removed versions of normal dairy products now available if you want to enjoy higher amounts.
In short, whether you eat dairy or alternative sources there’s a way to get enough calcium for your bones through diet alone, as long as you choose your food wisely.
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