Whenever I see an article on bone health, I find it reasonably unglamorous. There are much brighter and shinier things to be reading. But the reality is that looking after bones is at some of its most important times while we are kids, while we are breastfeeding, and while we are pregnant. And yet, an estimated 90% of adult females and 70% of kids are not getting enough calcium, the ingredient our body uses to make strong bones. Which means if you are reading this, you yourself, or someone you care for is probably in need of a calcium check. So let’s make it easy and quick.
- What do we need to do?
An adult body contains around 2% calcium, mostly in our bones! That is 1.4kg calcium in a 70kg body. We get that calcium by eating it. The best way to eat calcium is through foods, rather than through a supplement. High calcium foods are dairy products such as yoghurt, milk, cheese, ice cream and calcium-fortified products such as soy drink. There are small amounts in some other foods, but really, not enough to be considered good sources. I’d recommend using those sources as “bonus” supplies of calcium and focussing on enough of the main ones.
- How much do we need to eat?
2-3 year old kids need 1 ½ serves per day. That may look like a small tub of yoghurt and a slice of cheese.9-11 year old kids need roughly 3 serves per day. That typically means having a serve at a meal plus a serve at two snacks each day. For example, 2 slices cheese on toast at breakfast, a small tub of yoghurt as a snack and a fruit smoothie after school.
Older kids need 3 ½ serves per day. I’m sensing why it’s so hard to fit it all in. It can be done by appearing in 2 meals and 2 snacks each day.
4-8 year old kids need roughly 2 serves per day. Something like milk on cereal at breakfast and a small tub of yoghurt as a snack.
I’ll go through serve requirements using dairy products but these can be substituted for a calcium fortified product such as soy drink, or even a small tin (100g) of canned pink salmon with bones or 60g sardines.
Adult men, women, breastfeeding and pregnant women are best to get 2 1/2 serves daily. Something like milk on oats for breakfast, a snack on yoghurt, and feta cheese added to salad for lunch or dinner.
3/4 cup or 200g yoghurt
2 slices or 40g cheese
½ cup or 120g ricotta cheese
1 cup or 250ml milk
- Is there any way I can get my levels checked?
The short answer is no. Calcium levels in our blood are not reflective of bone health. There are ways to check your bone density but these are time consuming, expensive and not standard practice. Talk to your GP if you feel this is important to you.
- What about supplements?
A supplement is useful if you can’t manage the food strategies above. It’s a backup option as it won’t be used by your body well as a food source. Like trying to get the pleasure of chocolate from cacao beans…similar but oh so different.