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Calcium is crucial for the development of strong bones and teeth, and is vital for muscle contraction and nerve function, plus blood clotting and cell signalling.
Your body requires a regular intake of calcium in order to function properly. If you don't get enough your body instead takes existing calcium from your bones, which causes you to lose bone mass. Bone mass loss causes your bones to become porous and brittle, and puts you at higher risk of developing osteoporosis.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommends that adults consume 1200mg calcium per day to maintain healthy bones, teeth and muscles.
But new research has revealed that in many parts of the world, low calcium intake may be putting the majority of us at an increased risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
According to new data published by the Osteoporosis Foundation in the journal Global dietary calcium intake among adults: a systematic review, only Northern European countries are managing to consume a daily average of 1000mg.
The top four European countries based on dietary calcium intake were as follows:
"Outside of North America and most of Europe - particularly Northern Europe - there is lower intake than there should be for good bone health," said lead author of the study Ethan Balk, associate professor at Brown University School of Public Health.
"In many parts of the world, the low average calcium intake may be putting most people at increased risk of fractures and osteoporosis."
The top 10 sources of calcium are as follows:1
Without doubt, the best source of calcium is milk, closely followed by other dairy products such as yoghurt, cheese and cream.
Milk is definitely not 'bad' for you, says Nutritionist Rob Hobson. In fact, milk provides a whole host of nutrients, including:
"While some people - such as vegans or those with a milk allergy or lactose intolerance - need to omit dairy foods from their diet, I would recommend that if you don't have any negative symptoms associated with eating dairy foods, (bloating, stomach upset, nausea) then there is no real reason to cut them out of your diet", says Rob Hobson.
"If you're worried about the quality of milk, go for organic, where animals are raised without the typical use of antibiotics and wormers and graze naturally on a GM-free diet (richer in omega 3)", he adds.
If you have been diagnosed with a milk allergy, lactose intolerance or have made the decision to follow a vegan diet, it's especially important to find alternatives that provide enough of the nutrients you need to live a healthy life.
The following lactose-free milks and non-dairy milks are available:
"As far as the vital nutrients in dairy are concerned, then calcium, vitamin D and B12 are easy to find by choosing dairy-free milk alternatives that have been fortified", advises Rob. Alternatively, you may benefit from a calcium supplement.
Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn't possible, supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.