We are taught that the more calcium (read: milk) you ingest, the healthier your bones. While we absolutely do need calcium in our diets, is milk really the only (or best) source? And is calcium the only thing that keeps our bones healthy? Well. The straightforward answer is no, (no), and no.
Calcium is a naturally-occurring mineral ingested by all animals originally through plants. For humans, calcium helps to keep us fit and healthy in a number of ways. 1-2% of our total body weight comes from calcium, and 99% of that is found in our bones, where it continuously rebuilds and maintains our skeleton.
While the vast majority of calcium lives in our bones, our bodies also work hard to maintain the correct amount in our blood. To do this, we take calcium from the food we eat or, if we don’t ingest enough, from our bones instead. Borrowing from our bones to maintain the balance in our blood is fine in the short-term, as it can be replaced, but it becomes damaging if the calcium deficit continues.
The calcium in our blood has a couple of really important functions: it helps our muscles (including our heart) and nerves function properly and helps our bodies maintain the correct pH level to ensure everything else functions the way it should too. Getting the right amount of calcium in our diet is, therefore, very important.
Calcium moves between the our blood and bones and is also lost in our toilet breaks! Since we use and lose calcium on a daily basis, understanding the factors that affect calcium absorption will help you keep healthy balanced levels in your blood and bones.
Taking a supplement isn’t always the answer. That’s because excess calcium can deposit itself where it doesn’t belong and cause kidney stones. Instead, we need to maximise our body’s ability to use the calcium we offer it and limit unnecessary loss. While there is definitely a genetic predisposition to the extent of our bone health, there are a few key points to consider.
Being aware of calcium-rich foods, as well as foods that support our bodies in utilising calcium, is all part of building a holistically healthy body balance. Nutritional guidelines state that the average adult in the UK should have a daily calcium intake of around 700mg (this rises to 1200mg for people over 54) but, as stated above, the amount of calcium we lose, or are able to utilise, depends on a variety of factors. This figure takes this into account and errs on the side of caution, allowing for lifestyle factors that may lead to increased loss of calcium.
So, whether or not you choose to include dairy in your diet, here are our top tips for healthy bones: