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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Which is better for bone health - calcium supplements or calcium from dairy products/food?

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  • 1

    Thanks

    Chris Fonda

    Dietitian, Nutritionist, Sports Dietitian

    As an Accredited Sports Dietitian, APD and athlete (springboard diver), Chris has both professional and personal experience in sport at the sub-elite and elite level.Chris … View Profile

    The best sources of calcium come from dairy products (milks, yoghurt and cheeses). Low fat varieties tend to have more calcium in them compared to their full fat counterparts. It is recommended that women achieve a daily calcium intake of around 1000mg per day.

    When choosing dairy products, apart from looking at the fat and energy content, focus also on how much calcium they provide per serve. Aim for milks and yoghurts that have around 300mg of calcium per serve. Two to three dairy servings per day will provide you with adequate amounts of calcium. Dairy products are also a good source of other nutrients.

    Apart from dairy, dark green leafy vegetables, almonds, salmon with bones and broccoli also contain good amounts of calcium. You shouldn't have to supplement with calcium if you are eating the recommended amounts I have suggested above. However if you can't get your 1000mg per day in from foods, a calcium supplement can help.

    Apart from calcium, vitamin D is also important for bone health. Vitamin D actually helps your body absorb more calcium. The best source of vitamin D is sunlight. You can also find small amounts of vitamin D in foods such as egg yolks, oily fish, oils, and some milks and margarines fortified with vitamin D.

    For more expert dietary advice, find yourself a local Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD). APD's are experts in nutrition and dietetics and can help you formulate a plan that incorporates enough calcium and vitamin D into your day. You can find one by logging onto www.daa.asn.au

  • Dr Subhash Verma

    GP (General Practitioner)

    Dr. Verma has wide experience in the field of medicine. After completing his MBBS he has obtained Post Graduate Degree and Diploma in Paediatrics, Obstetrics … View Profile

    Calcium derived from food products are better, but if there is a deficiency or you're not eating it properly or a disease is an issue, than you should be supplemented by a calcium supplement. But certainly the food and natural resources are better.

  • Elizabeth Newsham-West is committed to optimising the health and well-being of people across all ages within the Mount Tamborine community.  She works as a domicillary … View Profile

    Optimal bone health relies on a number of nutrients of which calcium is just one. Dairy products ( mainly reduced fat varieties) are considered to be better than calcium supplements for a number of reasons. However if you are unable to have dairy products (DP) then a calcium supplement is required provided you split up the daily dose and not take it all at once.

    Why are dairy products the best.

    • they provide an excellent source of calcium which is very well absorbed due to the casein and lactose naturally present in dairy products
    • they have other important nutrients required for bone health being vitamin D ( although sunlight is our greatest source), protein, vitamin B12, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium. Over half of our bone is protein. As bone is a living tissue these nutrients are always being replaced regularly so there always needs to be an adequate supply and dairy products delivers this nicely.
    • dairy products have also been found to provide other health benefits such as reducing your risk of some  lifestyle diseases
     There is some research showing that in postmenopausal women if you take a calcium supplement greater than 1000mg then this can increase your risk of heart disease. However this has not been found to be the same if you take 1000mg calcium from food. This is why we recommend splitting up the calcium dose.
     
    The negative effects of protein and sodium (both nutrients found in milk) by increasing calcium excretion are not evident with dairy products in the long term if adequate calcium is present.  Milk alternatives ( eg soy,oat,almond)  which are supplemented with calcium are also a good source of calcium but not as well absorbed as calcium from DP. Calcium is also found in plant foods but not as much as in DP but it is recognised that other nutrients and phytonutrients in these foods are also important for bone health. Even though they have phytates and oxalates these will not be a problem if you are having adequate dietary calcium.
     
    The requirements for calcium change depending on your age and stage of bone development or maintenance so it is important to know how much you require. More isn't better. Your GP or Dietitian can help provide you the guidelines.

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