Nutrition and Fitness for a Lifetime of Health – Part 7
As I noted in my last six blog posts, proper nutrition is important throughout life, but children have special nutritional needs. Children grow faster during their first few years than at any other time in their lives, and this rapid growth dramatically increases their nutritional needs. Although specific nutrient needs vary throughout the different stages of life, there is probably no more critical time for optimal nutrition than during childhood. Topics I’ve covered so far have been 1) how to establish healthful eating habits, 2) filling the nutritional gaps with dietary supplements 3) fostering active children, 4) Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Children’s Health 5) Building Strong Bones and 6) Children and Vitamin D. Today, let’s learn about Children and Calcium.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body with more than 99% occurring in bones and teeth, where it is the central “support structure.” Therefore, it’s critically important that children of all ages optimize their calcium intake every day to ensure proper development of bones and teeth.
- Calcium is found in many foods, but the most common source is milk and other dairy products. One 8-ounce glass of milk provides 300 mg of calcium, which is 33% of the recommended daily intake for younger children and about 25% of the recommended intake for teens.
- Based on the USDA Food Guide Pyramid, individuals two years and older should consume two to three servings of dairy products per day, with a serving size being equivalent to 1 cup (8 ounces) of milk, 8 ounces of yogurt, or 1.5 ounces of natural cheese.
- Calcium also can be found in fortified foods such as tofu, soy milk, and some juices—as well as in dark, leafy green vegetables such as kale, broccoli, and spinach. However, to get the same amount of calcium in one 8-ounce glass of milk, a child would have to consume 21/4 cups of cooked broccoli or 8 cups of spinach.
The recommended daily intake of calcium for infants and children ranges between 210 mg and 1,300 mg a day, depending on the age of the infant or child. However, national nutrition surveys have shown downward trends in the consumption of milk, and increased consumption of sugar-rich juices and sodas[i] among adolescents and teens.
Other studies confirm that many children aren’t getting enough calcium from diet alone. In one such study, 44% of boys and 58% of girls ages 6–11, and 64% of boys and 87% of girls ages 12–19, did not meet their recommended intake for calcium.[ii]
Inadequate calcium intake, during such a critical time, can prevent children from achieving optimal peak bone mass, ultimately increasing their risk for osteoporosis and bone fractures later in life. So the take-home message is to assess your child’s dietary intake of calcium and vitamin D and be sure to provide a supplement that delivers adequate amounts of both calcium and vitamin D to fill any gaps that may exist in their diets.