On average, children do rather well in meeting their daily vitamin and mineral needs except for one nutrient – calcium. Its intake has become a growing concern as consumption of milk has declined in recent years.
Calcium is an essential nutrient. Found mainly in milk and dairy products like cheese, sour cream and yogurt, it is contained also in plant foods like spinach, broccoli, almonds and canned red kidney beans.
Grocery shoppers can find orange juice, cereals, and soy milk along with many other foods fortified with calcium. Fortified means extra amounts of the mineral have been added to the food item during production.
As children grow, their bodies use calcium to build bone mass. As we get older still, and progress to the later years, calcium consumption is important to reduce the risk of bone fracture due to osteoporosis. This is a condition whereby bones become fragile and can break easily. Remember, we never outgrow our need for calcium, no matter our age.
When is the Need for Calcium Greatest?
Calcium needs are highest during childhood and the teen years. Bones are growing fast during this time and calcium must be absorbed to make them strong. While most calcium is added to our bones by the age of 17, excess levels are stored for use later in life. Think of it this way. All of us will lose calcium as a natural part of aging. The more calcium “deposited” into our “bone banks” when younger, the less fragile our bones will become as we age.
Food labels inform us about the amount of calcium in a single serving of a food. Look at the “% Daily Value” (DV) next to the calcium number on the Nutrition Facts label.
- Try to eat foods and drink liquids with 20% or more Daily Value (DV) for calcium (like milk). These foods are considered “good sources” of calcium.
- Foods with less than 5% DV for calcium while helpful are not considered sources that will push you significantly toward your daily consumption goals.
For most adults aged 19 to 50 years, 100% DV means getting 1,000 mg of calcium per day. Adults over 50 need 1200 mg. Children ages 1 to 3 need 700 mg per day and those who are 4 to 8 years old need 1000 mg. But children ages 9-18 require extra calcium, 1,300 mg per day, an additional 300 mg compared to adults. That means drinking an extra 8-ounce glass of milk or consuming extra servings of another calcium-rich food like cheese or yogurt.
Links for more ideas:
HarvardSchoolof Public Health – Calcium and Milk: What’s Best for Your Bones and Health?
Milk Matters – National Institutes of Health
Calcium in the Diet
Food Sources Rich in Calcium
Janice Wade-Miller is a nutrition educator in Tallahassee, Florida. She has earned her bachelors and masters degrees in Food and Nutrition from Florida State University. In her role as a health educator, she has assisted all age groups, from young children to senior citizens in learning about good nutrition, health and food safety. Her email address is [email protected].