Women need more calcium than men

For some reason, women are more prone to osteoporosis or thinning of the bones than men. Bone consists of much more than calcium, and the factors affecting calcium levels in bone involve more than dietary intake.

The body's calcium balance and bone density can be affected by:

1. hormones

2. physical activity (favourably)

3. vitamin D (from food or formed under the influence of sunlight) (favourably)

4. food and beverage intake

To the extent that any of these factors may be different between men and women, there is the potential for different calcium needs. But, for the majority of men and women, a similar intake of calcium is recommended, currently 800 milligrams per day for adults ( see also appendix 2).

Calcium needs increase to 1100 milligrams per day in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy and 1200 milligrams during lactation.

Osteoporosis is particularly common in post-menopausal women. This means that it is especially important for women's bones to be in good condition and for calcium balance to be favourable well before the menopause. But there may still be a case for women, both shortly before and after the menopause to pay particular attention to their calcium intake. Rather than resort to calcium supplements in the first instance, it is worth knowing which foods are good sources of calcium:

FOOD

CALCIUM CONTENT

mg/100 ml or 100 g

Sesame seeds* (and similarly tahina or sesame seed paste) 1160
Milk (low fat allows more calcium per kilojoule or kilocalorie) 120
Yoghurt 150
Nuts 40-250
Wholemeal wheat flour* 40
Green leafy vegetables* (for example, cabbage, endive leaves) 30-80
Legumes 30-80
Cauliflower, broccoli 30-80
NOTE:
Spinach (boiled) 600
Parsley sprigs 330

* Calcium is less bioavailable (usable by the body) in plant foods than it is in animal-derived foods.

Recent evidence indicates that the bioavailability of calcium from food is, in general, better than from calcium supplements.

In making these food choices, it is important not to compromise calcium balance by including foods which adversely affect it. For example, it is better to choose a low sodium dairy product like milk or yoghurt, than a high sodium one like cheese.