Are your kids getting enough calcium in their diet?
Calcium is a mineral that is mostly present in your child's bones. Having a diet with foods that are high in calcium to meet daily requirements is necessary for the development of strong bones. It is also an important way to prevent the development of osteoporosis in adults.
Toddlers (age 1-3 years) require about 500mg of calcium each day (about 2 glasses of milk).
Preschool and younger school age children (age 4-8 years) require about 800 mg of calcium each day (about 3 glasses of milk).
Older school age children and teens (age 9-18 years) require about 1300 mg of calcium each day. This higher level of calcium is especially important once they begin puberty (about 4 glasses of milk).
Even though most parents understand the importance of their children getting enough calcium, only about 1/2 of younger children and even fewer teens get enough calcium in their diet.
Since milk has a lot of calcium in it, children who drink 2-3 servings of milk each day usually easily meet their daily requirements of calcium. Children with milk allergies or who just don't like milk are a little more of a challenge to meet these requirements, but it is still easy if you learn to read food labels.
On food labels, the calcium content is usually represented as a percentage, such as 4%, 15% or 30%, etc. What does that percentage mean? It is the percentage of the daily value of calcium that you would get by eating one serving of the particular food and it uses 1000mg as 100% daily value. So, if a food label that says that it has 30% calcium has 30% x 1000, or 300mg.
In addition to actually reading the nutrition label, you can also find foods that are good sources of calcium by looking for the following terms on the packaging:. Choose foods that say that they are "High in Calcium", "Rich in Calcium" or "Excellent Source of Calcium," which are labels that are found on foods that have at least 20% daily value of calcium or 200mg. Some of these foods can have up to 30-35% calcium. This is in contrast to foods that say that they are "Calcium Enriched", "Calcium-Fortified" or have "More Calcium," which are lablels found on foods that have more than 10% daily value of calcium.
So choose food products that are high in calcium to get your child the calcium he needs. And compare food labels to choose brands or types of foods that have a higher percentage of the daily value of calcium.
When looking at different brands and flavors of orange juice, you can see why reading food labels is so important. Some will have 0% daily value of calcium, while other flavors of juice, even of the same brand, can have up to 35% or 350mg. So it is not enough to drink orange juice. Your child should be drinking orange juice that is labeled 'High in Calcium'.
For example, a 7 year old whose main source of calcium is orange juice, would have to drink about 20 glasses of OJ that only has 4% calcium, vs just 2-3 glasses of OJ with 35% calcium.
What about vitamins with calcium?
Many parents think that their child is getting enough calcium if they are getting a 'complete' daily multivitamin. Examining the label of these 'complete' vitamins shows that they usually only have about 75-100mg of calcium. For a school age child, that would only be about 9-12% of their daily requirement. There are vitamins with higher calcium levels, often up to 20% daily value of calcium or 200mg, but you will have to read the label to find them.
There is a new calcium vitamin that has 500mg of calcium. It is the One A Day Kids Scooby Doo Calcium Chews, which look and taste like a tootsie roll candy and most kids should like taking. This vitamin does contain 'dried milk solids' and so is not a good choice for kids with a milk allergy.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has recently changed their recommendation for Vitamin D supplements for kids, which may affect kids who do not drink much milk.
The AAP now advises that, to prevent rickets and Vitamin D deficiency, children will need a supplement with 200 IU of Vitamin D each day if they are exclusively breastfed or not drinking at least 500ml (17 ounces) of Vitamin D fortified milk or infant formula. Older children and teens who do not get regular sunlight exposure and who do not drink at least 500ml of Vitamin D fortified milk each day will also need a supplement.