There has been a lot of debate recently on the issue of whether we really need 10, rather than 5, portions of fruits and vegetables a day to stay healthy. But it’s not just fruits and vegetables that we need to be eating to make sure we get all the necessary vitamins and minerals to function properly – we also need calcium.
We all know that milk and dairy products are a great source of calcium, and we learn from an early age that it’s a wise move for our wellbeing to incorporate them into our diet. But what is the actual science behind our calcium needs, what milk can provide, and what can happen if we don’t get enough?
There is more calcium in the body than any other mineral, but just how much do we need to stay healthy? The Association of UK Dietitians recommends that children aged 1-3 should have 350mg per day, increasing by 100mg for 4-6 year olds and 7-10 year olds. When children become adolescents their needs increase dramatically to between 800-1000mg per day, once they become adults needing 700mg per day. Those who breastfeed or who suffer from Coeliac Disease will need an even larger amount.
So how much calcium does milk actually provide? You will get the same amount of calcium from whole or semi-skimmed milk: 100mls of whole milk will provide you with 122mg of calcium, and 100mls semi-skimmed milk will provide 124mg.
However, we can’t absorb calcium properly without vitamin D. According to the NHS, from the middle of Spring we should be able to get all of the vitamin D we need straight from the sunlight soaking through our skin, but from October to April it is recommended to find other sources of vitamin D as we certainly cannot rely on the Great British weather to provide us with any sunshine in the colder months! As well as vitamin D supplements, good sources include fortified cereals, oily fish, red meat and egg yolks.
So, we now know that the body needs calcium and vitamin D, and that milk is their best source – but what are the dangers to our health if we don’t get enough calcium, and become deficient?
If children do not get enough calcium in their diet they can develop rickets – where the bones become soft and weak. The bones can then become deformed, leading to the characteristic bowed legs, thickening of the ankles, wrists and knees and teeth will be at risk of poor health as the enamel will be weakened.
Adolescents and adults who do not get enough calcium in their diet are at an increased risk of developing osteoporosis when they’re older, where the bones become brittle and far more susceptible to fractures and breaks.
But it’s not just bones and teeth that are at risk from a deficiency. Hypocalcaemia puts your hair, nails, and muscles at risk. This is because calcium is not just essential for strong and healthy bones, but also for regulating muscle contractions (including the heartbeat) and ensuring that blood clots normally. In some cases, hypocalcaemia has brought on seizures and memory loss.
It is so vitally important that you make sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D into yours and your family’s diet, people of all ages need these important vitamins and minerals in order for their bodies to function normally and healthily – so don’t forget to reach for the milk on your next shopping trip!