Dear Martina, What can I do to boost my calcium intake?

I am 16 years old and a vegetarian and my mother is worried I might get osteoporosis later in life if I don't drink milk.

Emily P, Hove Dear Emily, There is more to calcium than most of us think.

It's essential for bone, joint and ligament health and 99 per cent of our calcium reserves are stored in our bones.

The remaining one per cent is used for the transmission of nerve impulses, muscle growth and contraction, the heart and nervous system, blood clotting and numerous other bodily functions.

If blood levels of calcium drop, the body withdraws calcium from our bones.

You are considered more at risk from osteoporosis (porous bones), if you suffer from eating disorders, too much stress, smoke and drink heavily, have many missed periods, take little exercise and take drugs containing corticosteroids.

For the prevention of osteoporosis, diet is of major importance, particularly when you are a teenager.

The best source of calcium is milk but many people don't eat animal products, don't like milk or are intolerant of it. You can get all the calcium you need from other sources.

For vegetarians, nuts and seeds, beans, quinoa and leafy green vegetables such as broccoli, kale, collard greens and bok choy are all good choices.

You can also boost your intake with foods fortified with calcium such as soya milk or carob powder.

After calcium-rich foods have been eaten, they need to be properly absorbed and utilised.

Calcium is converted by stomach acid into a soluble form. Low stomach acid, however, is common and means that minerals are not properly released from foods.

Seek professional advice from a nutritionist if you suffer from any digestive discomfort such as indigestion.

Excessive protein, caffeine, fizzy drinks, sugar and salt also interfere with mineral balance and cause bone loss.

Did you know your body requires other nutrients in order to absorb calcium?

Vitamin D increases the uptake of calcium and we produce this ourselves by exposing our skin to the sun.

People who stay indoors or wear clothing that covers most of their body need to obtain vitamin D from eggs, oily fish, cereals and margarine.

Magnesium is another essential mineral for calcium utilisation and commonly deficient - it helps incorporate calcium into the bones and prevents the build-up of calcium into soft tissues and joints.

The minerals zinc, copper, boron, silicon and manganese are also important, as are the vitamins B6, C and K.

If your diet is repetitive and consists of processed foods, it will be less likely to provide you with those nutrients.

Here are a few menu ideas for strong, healthy bones: Add chopped nuts and seeds, raisins or other dried fruit to hot or cold cereals or muesli.

Whisk up a fruit and nut smoothie in a blender. Mash cooked beans with potatoes.

Add chopped kale to soups and casseroles.

Stuff Chinese lettuce leaves or other greens into pitta pockets spread with tahini (sesame seed paste, available from health food stores).

Add chopped and lightly steamed vegetables such as broccoli, courgettes, collards, beet greens or kale to salads.

Martina is a qualified nutritionist at the Crescent Clinic of Complementary Medicine, 37 Vernon Terrace, Brighton. Tel: 01273 202221 or email: