Calcium is an important mineral that our bodies begin storing from the time we’re babies until we’re young adults.
99% of our calcium is stored in our bones, and our bodies rely on this storage to pull from if our diet is deficient. The more calcium we get in our diet, the stronger and denser our bones become.
Our bone density continues to increase until early adulthood, when we reach our maximum bone density. The body then begins to utilize these calcium stores. So if we’re not getting enough calcium as children, we’re not maximizing our bone strength. This can cause problems with frequent fractures. Due to poor calcium intake as children, our body’s store depletes, and as we age our bones become thin and brittle, resulting in osteoporosis, which can affect all people — not just older women. By the time osteoporosis has set in it is too late to “rebuild” our bones.
Multiple studies have shown that our diets are lacking in both calcium and vitamin D, most likely as a result of our diet with increasing amounts of juices and sodas that are replacing milk in our children’s diets.
The best way to get calcium is through our diet. Some easy and excellent dietary recommendations are…
- At least 3 servings of low fat milk, yogurt, or cheese
- Dark green leafy vegetable
- Chickpeas, lentils, and split peas
- Salmon and sardines
- Cereals fortified with calcium
- Fortified juices (although not more than 6 ounces per day due to sugar content)
- Tofu and soy milk
Ideal Calcium Requirements
BIRTH-6 MONTHS: at least 200 mg per day
6-12 MONTHS: at least 260 mg per day
1-3 YEARS: at least 700 mg per day
4-8 YEARS: at least 1000mg per day
9-18 YEARS: at least 1300 mg per day
>19 YEARS: at least 1000 mg per day
8 ounces of milk, fortified orange juice, and yogurt can provide approximately 300 mg of calcium. 1 serving of salmon or tofu can provide 200 mg of calcium.
Some dietary choices can actually decrease the calcium in our bodies:
- Soda pop
- Caffeine, alcohol and tobacco
- Diets that exclude dairy products (of course)
To keep our bones strong, we need not just the recommended calcium but also vitamin D, roughly 600IU per day for children. A great source of Vitamin D comes from the absorption of sunlight –- though in Pittsburgh, especially in the winter, we don’t see a lot of that, so we need to get the Vitamin D through supplements and fortified foods. 1 cup of vitamin-D-fortified milk will provide roughly 100 IU of vitamin D.
Quick Tips for Strong Bones
- Balanced diet — including the recommended daily allowances of calcium, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Exercise — especially weight-bearing, which will help keep bones strong. The best exercises for this are running, walking, dancing, and soccer.
- Adequate Vitamin D.
Give your kids the best chance for a healthy future by starting them off with a good diet now!
If you have any questions about your child’s diet or nutrition, please discuss it with us at your next visit.
Dr. Alicia Hartung, a shareholder in the practice, has been a Kids Plus Doc since 2001.