Nutritional Health For All

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Good Foods for Healthy Bones


  • Calcium is the main mineral present in bones and teeth. It helps to build and maintain bone strength throughout life and helps to prevent osteoporosis.
  • Bone is a living tissue so it needs a constant supply of nutrients such as calcium.
  • Vitamin D is also important for bones as it helps the body to absorb calcium.
  • Although you stop growing by about 18, you’ll never outgrow your need for calcium as your bones grow in strenght up until your mid-thirthies.
  • By the age of 17, your bones will have stocked up on over 90% of the calcium they will ever contain so the childhood and teenage years are the critical time to make sure you get enough calcium.

What Foods Contain Calcium?

The richest sources of calcium in the diet are dairy foods such as:

ü  Milk

ü  Yogurt

ü  Cheese

The human body easily absorbs calcium from dairy foods, and therefore they are the best sources of calcium in the diet.

Calcium is also found in other foods such as peas, beans, green vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and cabbage, softened bones of tinned fish such as sardines or salmon, white bread and dried fruit. However, these are poorer sources, as you’d need to eat large amounts to get enough calcium.

For example 1 glass of milk contains the same calcium as 10 servings of baked beans 

How Much Calcium Do I Need?

The Department of Health/HSE 2016 Food Pyramid guide recommends the following servings:

  • Adults need 3 servings daily
  • Children aged 9-12 years and Teenagers age 13-18 years need 5 servings daily
  • Women who are pregnant of breastfeeding need 3 servings daily

What is a serving?

  • A large glass (200ml) of milk – full fat, low fat ,fat free or low fat fortified milk are all suitable as they all have similar amounts of calcium
  • A large glass (200ml) of calcium enriched soya milk
  • 1 small carton of yogurt (125ml)
  • 1 yogurt drink (200ml)
  • 25g/1oz low fat cheese or semi-soft cheese– (matchbox size or 2 Thumbs, width and depth)
  • 50g/2 oz low fat soft cheese
  • 2 processed cheese triangles
  • 75g/3oz cottage cheese
  • I portion of milk pudding made with a large glass of low fat milk

Other Sources of Calcium

If you are not able to consume dairy products, there are other foods that contain calcium including: 

  • Tinned sardines/salmon/pilchards (with bones)
  • Calcium fortified soya/rice/oat milk
  • Calcium fortified soya yoghurt/dessert/custard
  • Tofu/soya bean curd
  • Dark green leafy vegetables e.g. spinach, broccoli
  • Dried figs/apricots
  • White/ wholemeal bread
  • Hummus/tahini
  • Brazil nuts/almonds
  • Oranges
  • Fortified orange juice 

Meal and snack ideas to increase your calcium intake

  • Custard or a milk pudding made using low fat milk
  • Glass of milk or a yogurt
  • Breakfast cereal & milk
  • Fruit & yogurt
  • Fruit smoothie with yogurt milkshake
  • Hot milky drink e.g. latte, cappuccino
  • A mug of hot chocolate made with milk
  • Crudités (raw vegetables such as carrots, pepper, celery etc.) with natural yogurt dip
  • Fromage Frais
  • Cheese slices, triangles or strings
  • 1 glass calcium-enriched fruit juice

Vitamin D

It is found naturally in oily fish e.g. sardines, salmon, mackerel, herring, and trout; eggs and liver and it can also be found added to foods such as fat spreads fortified with vitamin D,  fortified milk, fortified yogurt and cereals.

The benefits of dairy products

  • The relationship between dairy foods and body weight is often misunderstood.
  • Many people incorrectly think that they should avoid or reduce their intake of foods from the ‘milk, yogurt and cheese’ food group when ‘watching their weight’.
  • If you are trying to lose weight, it is essential that your diet remains healthy and well balanced and that you are meeting your nutrient requirements. By cutting out a whole food group, e.g. the ‘milk, yogurt and cheese’ group, the nutritional quality of the diet is more than likely going to be affected.
  • *Being underweight i.e. a Body Mass Index (BMI) of under 18.5kg/m2 increases your risk of osteoporosis.
  • More research is telling us that dairy products can protect us from weight gain.
  • Irish whole milk typically contains just 3.5% fat, semi-skimmed/low fat milk contains no more than 1.8% fat and skimmed milk has no more than 0.5% fat.  All product contain the same calcium.
  • There are also a wide variety of lower-fat yogurts and reduced fat cheeses on our supermarket shelves to choose from.

Dairy products and allergies

Allergy to the protein in cows’ milk is rare in adults. If present it must be treated with a milk free diet.

You may need to speak to a dietitian to ensure that you are getting adequate calcium from other sources. Lactose intolerance can occur in people following a bout of gastroenteritis. It is usually temporary. During this period you do not need to completely avoid milk products, but to limit them.Cheese and yogurt are usually better tolerated than milk.

*If you would like more information on calcium sources search for a Dietitian on our website.


 Created by Bernie Dennehy RD CORU Registered Dietitian. Member of the INDI.


© 2019 Irish Nutrition and Dietetics Institute, INDI. All rights reserved. May be reproduced in its entirety provided source is acknowledged. This information is not meant to replace advice from your medical doctor or individual counselling with a dietitian. It is intended for educational and informational purposes only.


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