Calcium is the main mineral that strengthens bones. Getting enough calcium is important for everyone, but for children and teens, it is critical. These are the years that bones are growing fast and calcium is being stored in the bone to make them strong. Most of the stored calcium for bone strength is laid down by age 17. Helping your children get into the daily habit of eating enough calcium-rich foods decreases their risk for weak bones later in life.
Unfortunately our children and teenagers are at risk for not getting enough calcium. National nutrition surveys show that most teen girls are not getting the recommended amount of calcium they need. The amount of calcium in food is measured in milligrams (mg). For example, 1 cup of milk has about 300 mg of calcium in it.
The following are the recommended amounts of milk a child should drink every day in order to meet most of their calcium needs. Other dairy products, calcium fortified and non-dairy sources of calcium can make up the difference.
1 to 3 years old
4 to 8 years old
9 to 18 years old
The calcium in 1 cup of milk is equivalent to the amount of calcium found in 1 cup of yogurt, 1 and 1/2 ounces of cheese, or 2 ounces of processed cheese.
Children from 1 through 18 years of age should get 600 IU of vitamin D per day. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium.
Milk is one of the best sources of calcium. Babies under 1 year old should drink breast milk or iron-fortified formula. Children 1 to 2 years old should drink whole milk because certain fats are needed for development during this early stage. When your child is 2 years old, start to switch from whole milk to low-fat milk or fat-free milk. There are plenty of dairy foods other than plain milk that are great sources of calcium. Try to set a good example by eating foods high in calcium yourself. Here are some ideas for adding calcium to your family's diet.
Whole milk dairy products are high in saturated fat and calories. Products with 1% or 2% fat still contain some saturated fat and cholesterol, but less than whole milk products. The lower the fat the better. Nonfat products are great because the fat and cholesterol are skimmed off leaving a food high in protein, vitamins and minerals. You get the same nutritional benefits without the excess fat, cholesterol, and calories. Look for non-fat or low-fat milk and yogurt in the store. Choose reduced fat cheeses (available in all varieties, including mozzarella, Swiss, cottage and ricotta cheeses), and lower fat milk desserts such as frozen yogurt and low or non-fat ice cream. Non-fat buttermilk, plain yogurt, and cottage and ricotta cheeses can be used as substitutes for high fat ingredients, such as cream and sour cream in recipes.
Fortunately, there are nondairy products that are good sources of calcium. Several brands of calcium fortified juices, cereals, and soy foods are now available. Green vegetables, such as broccoli and kale, and fish with soft, edible bones, provide calcium too. Try adding some of these foods to your child's diet.
Many food products, like cereal, list the amount of calcium per serving on the box. Food labels list calcium as a percentage of the Daily Value (DV) based on 1,000 mg of calcium per day. For example, a food product listing 30% calcium per serving would provide 300mg of calcium. Look for foods that provide 10% or more of the daily value for calcium. The calcium from some nondairy choices, such as vegetables, beans, and soy, is not absorbed as well as that from dairy products. Although these foods make it easier to meet daily calcium needs, it still can be hard to get enough without dairy products. It is best to get calcium from a variety of sources. Ask your healthcare provider or dietitian if your child should take a calcium supplement.
While many fortified products are good supplements, foods such as candy, flavored waters, and soda pop often have little or no nutritional value, other than the calcium. They are snack foods and should be eaten in limited amounts. Choose fortified foods that are already nutritious, such as whole grain cereals, breads, 100% fruit juices, or soy products.
Read labels. More does not always mean better. Calcium is best absorbed in amounts of 500 mg or less per serving. Keep your child's calcium needs in mind when you choose fortified products. Although rare, it is possible to get too much calcium through fortified foods.
The calcium in fortified fruit juices is well absorbed. Three 8 oz cups of fruit juice contain about the same amount of calcium and calories as three 8 oz cups of low fat milk.
Vitamin D increases calcium absorption. Getting enough sunlight and choosing foods (mostly dairy products) fortified with Vitamin D is important.
These things can make it harder for your body to absorb calcium:
These things can cause you to lose calcium: