We all know calcium is essential for healthy bones and teeth, but did you know it's just as vital for adults as it is for children? Calcium is crucial for energy, muscle function and normal blood clotting, irrespective of your age.
'We tend to assume calcium is something children need to load up on while their bones and teeth are developing, but we all need calcium every day to keep our bodies as strong as possible for as long as possible,' says Helen Bond, state registered dietitian and spokesperson for British Dietetic Association.
How much calcium do we need every day?
The NHS recommends we consume the following amount of calcium on a daily basis:
-1-3 year old kids - 350mg of calcium.
- 4-6 year old kids - 450mg of calcium.
- 7-10 year old kids - 550mg of calcium.
- 11-18 year olds - 100mg for boys and 800mg for girls.
- Adults (19-64 years) - 700mg of calcium.
Are you hitting your calcium target?
According to the latest statistics from the UK government's National Diet and Nutrition Survey, five per cent of men and eight per cent of women are calcium deficient, and a whopping 14 per cent of teenagers don't get enough of the must-have mineral.
If you notice any of these red flags, your calcium levels could be low:
1. You're tired all the time
Can't wake up? This could be a tell-tale sign you need a calcium-fix. 'Calcium helps release energy from your food, so if you aren't consuming enough of the mineral you may feel more tired than normal,' says Bond.
A shortage of calcium may also be one of the reasons pregnant women feel particularly fatigued. 'Bones begin to calcify in the womb, so if the baby doesn't get enough it will take calcium from the mother's supply,' says Bond.
'Breastfeeding mums need to consume even more calcium – we recommend 1,250mg a day, which is almost double the usual adult requirement.'
2. You're struggling with your running
If you're trying to shape up, resist the urge to cut dairy from your diet. Calcium, which is found in dairy products like milk and cheese, is essential for normal muscle function, including your heartbeat.
'The more lean muscle you have, the more calories your body burns at rest,' says Bond. 'So if you don't consume sufficient calcium to regulate muscle contractions, getting fit could be a real challenge.'
3. You bleed easily
When you sustain an injury, the sticky platelets in your blood form clots to stop blood flow. If you struggle to stem the flow of blood when you cut yourself, such as a paper cut, this could be a sign of calcium deficiency.
While it's unlikely you'll bleed to death from a paper cut, without adequate calcium your blood will take longer to clot, so you risk losing more of it. 'Calcium is a vital ingredient in what doctors call coagulation, or blood clotting,' says Bond.
4. You break bones easily
Loss of bone density is a natural part of the ageing process, because we lose calcium at a faster rate than we store it. Protect yourself from future problems by keeping your calcium levels topped up.
'Post-menopausal women are especially vulnerable as they have less oestrogen, a hormone that helps to preserve bones,' says Bond. 'It's worryingly normal for elderly women to break a bone after a simple fall.'
The best sources of calcium for runners
To ensure your hit your daily calcium quota, eat a diet rich in the following foods:
Milk, cheese and other dairy products – the calcium in dairy is the easiest for your body to absorb.
Sardines, pilchards, whitebait and other fish where you eat the bones.
Green leafy vegetables like broccoli, kale and Chinese cabbage.
Soya products like tofu, soya beans and soya milk.
Bread and cereals that are made with fortified flour.
Should you take a calcium supplement?
We should be able to get all the calcium we need from a healthy balanced diet.
'Eating your calcium in the form of milk, cheese, green leafy vegetables and nuts means you get the benefit of all those extra vitamins and minerals in your food,' says says Bond. 'It's extremely unlikely you'll overdose on calcium from food sources.'
If you're concerned you're not getting enough of the mineral from your food, check with your GP before taking a supplement.
'Some research shows calcium supplements can be linked to abdominal pain and kidney stones, and they can interfere with other medications, so ask your GP for a personalised prescription,' says Bond.
A version of this article appeared on Netdoctor.co.uk