The importance of calcium for growing bodies
Calcium is essential for the growth of strong, healthy bones and teeth. Throughout our lives, our calcium needs change, depending on what stage of life we are in. Young children and pre‐teens have special calcium requirements, as their bones are still constantly growing. Pre-teens and adolescents also experience a large growth spurt, which increases the amount of calcium they need every day.
Effects of a low calcium diet
At least 45% of the body’s total bone mass is formed during adolescence. Children with inadequate calcium intake during their early years may therefore be laying a poor foundation on which to build 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 constantly 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 fizzy drinks on a regular basis are also placing themselves at risk. Not only do fizzy drinks replace healthier options, such as water or milk, many soft drinks 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? Around 70‐80% of your child’s peak bone mass is determined by genetics, while the rest is dependent on dietary and environmental factors. This means that a healthy skeletal system has a lot to do with family history and whether mum, dad, granny and grandpa have strong bones or not. Obviously, your child’s genes are not something you can change. However, you can definitely influence the remaining 20‐30% of their bone health through the right food choices. Make sure your little one receives ample calcium with a varied diet rich in dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt, as well as fresh fruit and veggies. You can also choose food items with added calcium, such as certain fruit juices and cereals.
Suggestions on getting the right daily calcium intake
Dairy Australia recommends that children between the ages of 1‐3 years have 2 serves of dairy daily, children between 4‐11 years have 3 serves daily and adolescents 12‐18 years have 4 serves of dairy daily. One serve of dairy is equal to:
- 1 glass of milk (250ml) or
- 1 tub of yoghurt (200g) or
- 2 slices (40g) of cheese
Few foods contain as much absorbable calcium per serve as dairy products however, smaller amounts of calcium are found in tinned fish such as sardines (eaten with the bones), green leafy veggies such as broccoli, nuts, cereals and legumes. For those children who may not be getting an adequately varied diet, such as fussy eaters or kids with food allergies, a multivitamin and/or calcium supplement may help to improve their overall daily calcium intake and therefore support strong, healthy bones and teeth.