This week at Your Health Hub we are celebrating Women’s Health Week!

Today I wanted to focus on Calcium, a well-known mineral that plays a vital role in the development and maintenance of good bone health.

Evidence shows us that diets that contain adequate amounts of this mineral throughout life are crucial to prevent the incidence of osteoporosis (a condition of low bone density) along with adequate vitamin D and exercise.

In Australia, osteoporosis is a leading cause of morbidity in older adults, especially in postmenopausal women. This highlights just how an important role diet can play in preventing disease and disability later in life.

Calcium’s role in the body doesn’t just stop at ensuring good bone health, it has recently received special attention for its potential to treat common symptoms associated with Premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

As a Dietitian, I am particularly excited about the role that nutrition can play in preventing the symptoms of PMS, especially as some research consider that a lack in some micro-nutrients can lead to the development of PMS symptoms.

What is PMS?

Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, describes a range of physical and psychological symptoms that are some women experience before menstruation.

Some typical PMS symptoms can include:

The severity and symptoms vary among women, due to the different underlying reasons for their development.

It is important to note here that the cause of PMS is still unknown but there are some methods that can control symptoms such as medications (e.g. supplements and anti-depressants), dietary modifications, psychological approaches, exercise, and relaxation methods (e.g. yoga and meditation).

How calcium can help

A recently published systematic review examined the role of calcium and vitamin D in PMS, and showed that inadequate levels of calcium, especially in the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle can exacerbate PMS symptoms.

It also showed that women whose diets were high in calcium-rich foods were much less likely to experience PMS symptoms compared to other women. Calcium can help with reducing menstrual cramps, fluid retention and food cravings.

The review concluded that diets rich in calcium or that included the use of calcium supplementation was effective in eliminating or improving PMS symptoms.

Yoghurt bowl

How much calcium do I need?

The amount of calcium that you need in your diet depends on your age, gender, pregnancy status and medical history.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines suggest calcium be included in our diets in the following quantities for good health:

19-50 years 1,000mg
>51 years 1,300mg
Pregnancy (19yrs+) 1,000mg
Lactation (19yrs+) 1,000mg

It is concerning that less than half of all Australian adults meet their daily recommended intake of calcium.

Sources of calcium

Calcium is mainly found in milk and dairy-based foods but can also be found in smaller amounts in certain nuts, fortified milk beverages, fish (with bones) and breakfast cereals.

Here is a quick guide to help you include some additional calcium in your diet – do you get enough calcium?

Calcium rich foods per serve:

Food Calcium per serve Standard Serve kJ per serve
Skim milk 341mg 1 Cup (250mL) 382kJ
Full fat milk 304mg 1 Cup (250mL) 762kJ
Sanitarium So Good Long Life Lite Soy Milk 300mg 1 Cup (250mL) 473kJ
Vitasoy Calci Plus Soy Milk 400mg 1 Cup (250mL) 673kJ
Low fat natural yoghurt 488mg 150g 498kJ
Reduced fat cheddar cheese (15%) 209mg 1 slice 233kJ
Pink salmon, canned in water, no added salt 279mg 90g tin 552kJ
Kellogg’s Special K Original 200mg 40g 650kJ
Uncle Tobys Cereal Plus Calcium 200mg 40g 660kJ
Tahini 66mg 1 tablespoon 543kJ
Almonds 30mg 10 almonds 300kJ
Dried figs 160mg 6 figs 866kJ
Chickpeas, canned 90mg 1 Cup 898kJ
Lebanese cucumber 68mg 1 Cup 61kJ

Source NUUTAB 2010.

*Aim for 300mg per 250mL serve of alternative milks – usually Vitasoy and So Good are best for fortification. Unsweetened varieties are best.

** Choose a yoghurt with at least 120mg calcium in every 100 grams.

A note on absorption and supplements….

Getting enough calcium is just one part of the puzzle – making sure our body can absorb this calcium is just as important.

Some naturally occurring components in food can bind with calcium and prevent it from being absorbed. These foods are rich in oxalic acid (e.g. spinach, rhubarb, beans) or phytic acid (seeds, nuts, grains and soy).

So, it is best to eat these foods separately from a calcium rich meal (e.g. milk at breakfast).

As always, I recommend you try to obtain all the nutrients you need from your diet.

However, when this is not possible a supplement may be required but it is important to only include them into your diet if you have been advised to by your health professional.

Final Words…

If you are concerned about your dietary intake of calcium or want more information on ways to include more into your diet, then an Accredited Practicing Dietitian can help!

We can help find high-calcium foods that can be included in your diet that suit your lifestyle and taste preferences.

We can also discuss with you about what supplements might be best and how to take these to maximise your benefits, putting you on the right track to reach your requirements.

It is important to talk with your health care provider about what options are best for you.

For a high calcium mid-meal snack to add into your diet, check out this Fig and Sesame Bliss Bites recipe. It is a fantastic recipe that is based on foods that are naturally high in calcium.

Hannah Dobbie

Accredited Practising Dietitian