Importance of Calcium
Calcium cannot be produced by the body and is therefore considered an ‘essential’ nutrient that must be provided by the foods you eat.
Why is calcium important?
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. Almost all of the calcium in the body is found in the skeleton - more than 98% in fact. Therefore, a calcium-rich diet is very important in the development of your infant’s bones and in the maintenance of your own bones.
Calcium is also important in the building and maintenance of teeth and it plays a key role in our cells. In our cells it is involved in many processes, such as in the contraction of our muscles and in the transmission of signals in nerves.
When you are pregnant, your calcium needs increase from 800mg a day to 1100mg a day. That’s an extra 300mg calcium a day (equivalent to 1 serve of a calcium-rich food). Pregnant women need to eat around 4 serves of calcium-rich foods every day to meet their needs.
The main source of calcium is milk, cheese and yogurt. Canned fish with edible bones, some nuts and a few fruits and vegetables also contain calcium. The amount of calcium found in the plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables is somewhat smaller than that found in dairy foods.
|1 cup (250mL) of milk (whole, reduced fat or skim)||310mg|
|200g tub of natural or fruit yogurt||340mg|
|40g (2 slices) cheddar cheese (mild, tasty, vintage)||310mg|
|¼ cup mozzarella cheese, grated||260mg|
|¼ cup ricotta cheese||150mg|
|½ cup tofu or bean curd||320mg|
|1 cup (250mL) of calcium-enriched soy drink||290mg|
|1 cup of vanilla ice cream||150mg|
|½ cup custard||130mg|
|100g (1/4 cup) canned pink salmon (bones included)||280mg|
|60g (1/2 small tin) canned sardines (bones included)||200mg|
|5 dried figs||190mg|
|¼ cup raw almonds||70mg|
|½ cup baked beans, canned in tomato sauce||50mg|
|1 cup of broccoli||30mg|
Calcium at different stages in life
During childhood and adolescence, calcium is used to build and develop the skeleton and teeth. A calcium-rich diet is vital during this growth stage.
As an adult, it is important to continue with a calcium-rich diet to maintain your bone strength. With age, calcium is lost from the bones. So eating 3 serves of calcium-rich food each day can help to keep your bones strong. One serve of calcium-rich food provides around 300mg calcium.
During pregnancy and lactation, your calcium needs are higher. Pregnant and lactating women need around 4 serves of calcium-rich food each day.