Why do we need calcium? Well there are several reasons why we need to consume calcium and why it’s so important during pregnancy. Approximately 99 percent of calcium in the body is stored in our bones and teeth where it contributes to their structure and hardness.
By ensuring we consume sufficient levels of calcium after the age of 25 we will be contributing to a huge impact on the rate at which our bone density declines. Not only does calcium help build strong bones and teeth, but it also helps to regulate muscle contractions which include our heartbeat and ensures the blood is clotting normally.
Calcium can continue strengthening the bones until the age of 20 to 25 when peak bone mass is reached. After this point, the bones can only maintain or lose their density and grow weaker as a natural part of the ageing process.
Inadequate dietary calcium intake before this age can increase the risk of brittle bone disease and osteoporosis, as calcium is drawn from the bones as a reserve.
Each year, in the UK, over £1.7 billion is spent on treating osteoporosis. Health professionals estimate that one in two women and one in five men over the age of 50 in the UK will break a bone; this mainly occurs because of osteoporosis. Women are more affected as they have less bone mass than men, and may lose it faster as they get older, especially after the menopause.
There’s also concern that the diets of teenage girls and young women don’t contain enough calcium with some experts even predicting the future could bring an osteoporosis epidemic in women.
For the people who exclude milk and dairy products from their diet, or those who can’t tolerate milk sugar lactose, must look for calcium alternatives.
Some women may avoid dairy products (milk, yoghurt and cheese) because they are lactose-intolerant or, more rarely, have a cows’ milk protein allergy, or because they choose a vegan diet.
Lactose is the sugar naturally occurring in milk and all milk-based products, and lactose intolerance is frequently found in some women of Asian and African descent and it is caused by a deficiency in the enzyme lactase.
Intolerance of dairy foods can be variable with some people experiencing unpleasant symptoms such as diarrhoea, bloating and nausea when they have even small amounts of lactose.
Other dietary sources of calcium include:
If dairy foods are avoided for whatever reason, intake of calcium, riboflavin and iodine might be low, so it is important that good sources are included in the diet.
Calcium: Unsweetened calcium-fortified milk alternatives can be used instead of milk as a drink and in recipes. (Some brands of milk alternatives may also include vitamin B12 and vitamin D, which can be useful additions to the diet. However, milk alternatives on their own may not provide enough of these nutrients.)
• calcium-enriched soya milks, yoghurts, and cheeses;
• dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, broccoli, and watercress;
• almonds or sesame seeds; dried fruits – apricots, dates, and figs all contain small amounts of calcium; and
• (for non-vegans) fish, such as, sardines and anchovies, especially the bones
The requirement of calcium generally varies in both men and women and varies according to their age.
Adequate Intake for calcium for women during pregnancy and for those lactating is 1200mg.
Meeting calcium requirements on a vegan diet
Dairy is the richest source of calcium for your body, but unfortunately these products are off the table when it comes to following a vegan lifestyle, however, thankfully this this doesn’t mean that you need to deprive your body. By switching to alternative sources as listed below you can ensure you get sufficient amounts throughout pregnancy.
Calcium Fortified Milk Alternatives 1 cup 200-500mg calcium
Broccoli 1 cup = 60mg
Mustard Greens 1 cup = 165mg
Turnip greens 1 cup = 250mg
Kale 1 cup = 95mg
Tofu 1 cup 400mg
Bok Choy, cooked – 1 Cup 330mg