Why do we need calcium?
Calcium helps protect and build strong bones and reduce the risk of osteoporosis in later life. Your body stores calcium in your bones and teeth. If you aren’t getting enough calcium, your body will take it from your bones, making them weak and fragile and increase the risk of fractures and breaks.
The body also needs calcium to move muscles and for nerves to carry messages between the brain and body.
Vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium from the foods that we eat so it’s important that there is a balance between the two.
We mostly get vitamin D from sunlight throughout the year (we should spend at least 15 minutes, 3 times a week in the sun) and from foods such as oily fish, eggs and fortifies cereals and breads, however all adults and children over the age of one have been recommended to take a daily vitamin D supplement of 10mcg3.
>Read more on how to be outside in the sun safely
Who may need a calcium supplement and how much?
Calcium is essential for healthy bones, particularly in growing children, as their bones absorb calcium to strengthen them for adulthood. Calcium requirements for girls aged 7-10 are 550mg/day and increase to 800mg/day in 11-18-year-old girls.4
Adults should aim for 700mg/day, breastfeeding mums should have 1250mg/day and those suffering from coeliac disease or osteoporosis should have at least 1000mg/day.
Calcium is also important after the menopause, when you lose the bone-protective effects of oestrogen. Oestrogen is one of the main female sex hormones that’s needed in the female body for puberty, menstruation, pregnancy and bone strength.
Because oestrogen helps with bone strength, post-menopausal women are more at risk of osteoporosis, a condition where bones become fragile and are more easily broken.
After menopause, you need 1200mg of calcium each day to help slow the bone loss that comes with ageing. For more on how to improve bone strength, take a look at our article on how to boost your bone power.
Where can you get it?
Food sources of calcium include:
- leafy green veg (such as, kale, spinach, cabbage),
- milk*, cheese, yoghurt,
- bony fish,
- as well as calcium fortified products, such as some breakfast cereal, oatmeal and orange juice (do check labels).
*It’s important to note that most milk substitutes are fortified with calcium. A glass of cows’ milk contains around 300mg of calcium. Make sure you choose a milk substitute that contains at least 120mg of calcium per 100 ml.
>Our article on dairy free milk alternatives provides more information.
4. Vitamin B12
Why do we need vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 performs a similar role to B9 (or folate). It’s needed for the creation and multiplication of red blood cells and for making and repairing our DNA.
It’s also important for brain function and for maintaining a healthy nervous system. Too little folate can cause folate deficiency anaemia, symptoms of which range from:
- tiredness and a lack of energy,
- to muscle weakness,
- impaired vision
- and psychological issues, such as confusion and memory problems and depression.5
Who may need extra vitamin B12 and how much?
You may need a vitamin B12 supplement if you:
- are pregnant: vitamin B12 is very important for your unborn baby’s development.
- follow a vegetarian or vegan diet: vitamin B12 comes mostly from animal products. It can also be found in fortified products, such as cereals, yeast extract, bread and plant-based milk alternatives, but you may need to take a supplement to make sure you get enough.
Find out more about eating well on a plant-based diet in our articles What can a vegan eat? and Dairy free milk alternatives. Additionally, talk to your GP or a midwife if you are:
- breastfeeding, because your baby may need to take a supplement too.
- are aged 50 or older: as we age, our bodies can’t absorb vitamin B12 as well, so we may need to get more of it from supplements or fortified foods.
The recommended intake of B12 is 1.5 micrograms a day for adults aged 19-64. It’s important to get your folate levels checked by the GP too if your vitamin B12 levels are low. Treatment for low folate levels can help to improve your symptoms but can hide vitamin B12 deficiency.6
How to find it?
Food sources of vitamin B12 include meat, salmon, cod, milk, cheese, eggs and some fortified breakfast cereals. If your diet contains meat, fish or dairy foods, you should be getting enough vitamin B12 from diet alone.
However, as vitamin B12 is not found naturally in foods such as fruit, vegetables and grains, vegans may not get enough of it and may have to supplement. As before, if you’re pregnant there are certain foods to avoid or be careful with. These include some cheeses, fish, meat and eggs.
You can find full details on the NHS website.