Source: Most calcium in the diet comes from dairy products, but it can also be found in products of plant origin such as chickpeas, dry beans, lentils, spinach, cress and dry fruit as well as almonds, hazelnuts, figs and apricots.

What does it do? Essential for our body, calcium keeps bones and teeth in good condition. It is the commonest mineral element in our body. Calcium is also of first importance in helping with muscular contraction, including heartbeat, and for circulation of nerve impulses.

It also contributes to normal digestive enzyme function, and helps maintain normal metabolism of energy.

For whom? Growth, pregnancy and breast-feeding are periods during which demand for calcium rises. In fact, the calcium ingested during the last two periods must ensure proper development of the foetus and newborn baby; intake before the age of 18 builds up the calcium capital which is not renewed and therefore determines the health of bones in later years.

Similarly, immobilisation for long periods of time will increase loss of calcium. Persons whose lifestyle is sedentary, who do little physical exercise or are confined to bed for medical reasons, must watch their calcium levels more than others.

Recommended intake (RI)

Recommended calcium intake is 500 mg in babies, 700 mg in children aged 4-6, 900 mg in children aged 7-9, and 1,200 mg in persons up to 19. In adults, the recommended intake is 900 mg. In women aged over 55 (that is, post-menopausal) and elderly people, the requirement is 1,200 mg daily.

The reference intake that determines that minimum needs are met is 800 mg daily.