How much calcium do children need?

Published October 13, 2021

How does calcium help growing children?

During childhood and into their teenage years, kids need enough calcium to support their growing bones and teeth. Young children and pre‐teens have special calcium requirements, as their bones are continually growing. Pre-teens and adolescents also experience a large growth spurt, which increases the amount of calcium they need every day.

 

Calcium is one of the body’s most important minerals and has other essential roles to play, such as supporting muscle contraction function and bone strength.  Ninety-nine percent of the calcium in your body is stored in the bones and teeth, and when kids don’t consume enough calcium, they are more susceptible to developing weak bones.

Effects of a low calcium diet

Nearly half of the body’s total bone mass is formed during adolescence. Children with inadequate calcium intake may be laying a poor foundation for building strong bones in adulthood. This is because of the way the body regulates calcium levels. If there is not enough calcium available for absorption in the digestive tract, the body will use calcium stored in our bones. When calcium levels in the diet are repeatedly low, our bodies will eventually remove so much calcium that the bones become weak and brittle, leading to a condition known as osteoporosis.  Kids who drink soft drinks regularly are also placing themselves at risk. Not only do soft drinks replace healthier options, such as water or milk, but soft drinks also contain phosphoric acid, which may negatively affect bone health.

 

Helping kids to build strong bones for later in life

So what can we do to make sure our kids have enough calcium to build healthy, strong bones and teeth? Studies bone mass is determined by genetics, while the rest is dependent on dietary and environmental factors. Your child’s genes are not something you can change. However, you can influence their bone health through the right food and lifestyle choices. Ensure your little one receives ample calcium with a varied diet of calcium-rich foods, help them be physically active and keep soft-drink consumption to a minimum to help them build strong bones.

How much calcium should kids get each day?

As children’s bodies are constantly growing and developing, they need a lot of calcium to support the growth of healthy, strong bones and teeth.  However, the Australian Nutrition Survey found that over half the Australian population aged two years and over had inadequate usual intakes of calcium. As parents, we may be concerned about whether our child falls into this category, but are unsure exactly how much calcium they should be getting. It is best to check with your health professional what the reccomended daily intake of calcium is for your child, as this changes based on their age.

What foods are high in calcium?

Dairy products contain high amounts of calcium and are an excellent choice for ensuring your kids get enough from their diet. Examples include milk, yoghurt and cheese. Other foods that contain calcium include sardines and salmon with bones, dried figs and apricots, chickpeas, nuts, parsley, prawns and vegetables such as spinach, kale, broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, turnip greens and rhubarb. Legumes also provide calcium, including pinto beans, red beans, white beans and soybean products, such as tofu. The bioavailability of calcium from foods depends on many different factors, so getting calcium from a wide variety of foods will increase your chances of absorbing the calcium in your diet.

My child is allergic to dairy products, how can I ensure they get the recommended intake every day?

 

Whilst dairy products are great sources of calcium, an allergy to cow’s milk is one of the most common allergies in kids. If your child has a cow’s milk allergy, you may be understandably concerned about their calcium intake. There are many calcium-rich foods available that can be used in place of dairy. Milk substitutes include calcium-fortified soy milk, almond milk, rice or oat milk and soy yoghurt. A naturopath or nutritionist can also help you design a practical meal plan to ensure your little ones receive adequate calcium from their food.

Are calcium supplements suitable for children?

Ideally, kids should obtain adequate calcium from their food; however, a calcium supplement specially formulated for kids may be beneficial in cases where this is just not possible.  Calcium containing supplements will help top up your child’s calcium intake, helping them develop strong, healthy bones and teeth that will lay the foundation for optimal bone health in years to come.

 

We all want our kids to have a healthy, happy life. Helping your kids understand the importance of looking after their bones and teeth during childhood to ensure a healthy adulthood can be challenging, but it is well worth the effort. Finding calcium-rich foods they love, reducing consumption of soft-drinks and getting them outside to play will help them build strong bones and teeth now, so they stay strong for the next 80 years.

 

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