Is your child getting enough calcium in their diet? The recommended intake of calcium for kids is much higher than what many parents realise.
The good news is that you can improve your child’s intake of calcium with some simple diet tweaks.
Watch the video below or keep reading to learn about the importance of calcium for kids.
Why is calcium important for kids?
Calcium is an essential mineral, which means we need to consume it through the diet. It is the most abundant mineral in the human body.
As many know, calcium is important for strong bones and teeth. 99% of calcium in the body is stored in the bones and teeth.
But that 1% elsewhere in the body is just as critical for health. It is involved in nerve transmissions, which affects every system in the body. Calcium is also needed for muscle contraction, including the muscles of the heart.
Finally, research has suggested that calcium is key for learning, memory and other important brain functions. So calcium is essential for overall wellbeing, especially for kids.
Calcium in pregnancy
Getting enough calcium during pregnancy is critical for the health of you and your baby. It is particularly important during the 2nd trimester, which is when the majority of bone development and growth occurs.
One of the main causes of osteoporosis in women is low calcium during pregnancy. The body priorities baby first, so calcium is pulled from Mum’s bones.
If you’re planning a future pregnancy, now is the time to look at your calcium intake. If your intake is low, it is often worth taking a high-quality supplement to bridge the gap.
The signs of low calcium
How can you tell if your child has low calcium levels? The symptoms of calcium deficiency are difficult to pick up and can be caused by other health concerns.
With that in mind, some signs of low calcium include:
- Muscles aches, cramps and spasms
- Numbness and tingling
- Poor appetite
- Nervous irritability
- Brittle nails
- Dental problems
- Osteopenia and osteoporosis
Many of these symptoms show after a long-term deficiency. But unlike other minerals such as iron, there is no simple way to test levels. So identifying low calcium as a cause often comes down to some investigative work with your health practitioner.
The recommended intake of calcium for kids and adults
The recommended intake of calcium for kids is between 500-1000mg per day, depending on their age and size.
Teens require 1300mg per day – this is because of the growth that occurs during the teen years.
Adults need 1000mg per day. Pregnant and breastfeeding mums require 1000-1300mg per day.
These numbers are important to keep in mind when we look at the calcium content of common foods.
How to include enough calcium for kids
Want to know how to get enough calcium into your kids? Most parents start with dairy products, because this is what we’re taught to reach for.
When it comes to dairy, the calcium content sits around:
- 1 cup of milk: 300mg
- 1 cup of yoghurt: 300mg
- A slice of cheese: 30mg
It’s easy to see why people think calcium is best obtained from dairy products. After all, it’s easy to give your kids a couple of cups of milk and tick it off for the day!
But if dairy is an issue for your child, there are still plenty of alternatives to consider. Dairy is not the only source of calcium – and it’s not even the richest source available! Absorption of calcium from dairy may also be lower than other food sources.
What if your child doesn’t tolerate dairy? Let’s look at some of the best dairy-free sources of calcium.
Beans, legumes, nuts and seeds
- Navy beans: 70mg/100g
- Chickpeas: 50mg/100g
- Butter beans: 60-70mg/100g
- Lentils: 40mg/100g
- Almonds: 250mg/100g
- Brazil nuts: 180mg/100g
- Pistachios: 136mg/100g
- Unhulled sesame seeds: 1160mg/100g
- Unhulled tahini: 860mg/100g
- Linseeds: 270mg/100g
- Tofu: 170mg/100g
- Tempeh: 111g/100g
- Edamame 63mg/100g
There are so many ways you can incorporate these calcium-rich foods into your child’s diet.
Our favourite would have to be tahini. You can add it to salad dressings, dips and stir-fries. The key is to get the unhulled tahini, as it contains significantly more calcium than hulled tahini.
Nuts and seeds are easy to add into bliss balls, muffins, granola, porridge and even smoothies. Use beans in your dips, Mexican dishes and even your baking!
Fruit and vegetables
- Parsley: 260mg/100g
- Broccoli: 125mg/100g
- Spinach: 135mg/100g
- Bok choy: 105mg/100g
- Dried figs: 200mg/100g – just be aware of the high sugar content!
- Tinned sardines: 550mg/100g
- Tinned salmon with bones: 200-300mg/100g
A lot of mums are surprised at how well kids accept tinned fish! Start by adding it to what they already like. For example, you might mash some sardines into your tuna mornay, or make fish cakes using tinned salmon.
Why tinned instead of fresh? Fresh sardines are great, but often harder to access. Tinned salmon is also the best way for Aussies to access wild-caught salmon, as most fresh salmon in Australia is farmed. Plus we love that it’s convenient for mums to grab and use when needed!
What about alternative milks?
These often won’t contain significant amount unless they have been fortified. However, fortified mylks may help to boost your child’s intake, especially if they don’t get much from other sources.
Your best picks for dairy-free milks include:
- Soy milk: 100mg/100ml
- Almond milk: 100mg/100ml
- Rice milk: 118mg/100ml
- Oat milk: 120mg/100ml
The exact content will depend on the specific brand, so make sure you check the label.
Kids need a good amount of calcium every day to be healthy and happy. The key is adding these foods consistently into what your family already eats and enjoys. Get creative, and incorporate them into some of your favourite recipes!
Why absorption of calcium is key
It’s not just important to get enough calcium into the diet. Absorption is another factor that needs to be considered.
Calcium is fairly difficult to absorb. There are a few things we need to absorb and utilise calcium:
- Adequate stomach acid – this is needed for the digestion and absorption of nutrients, particularly minerals. If your child has issues with reflux, burping, heartburn or bloating in the upper digestive tract, they may have low levels. There are ways that a naturopath or nutritionist can help optimise their levels naturally.
- Vitamin D – this is needed to absorb calcium in the intestine. Unfortunately, a lot of kids are deficient in vitamin D!
- Magnesium – this facilitates absorption, and works alongside calcium in the body, particularly when it comes to the nervous system and muscles.
- Weight-bearing exercise – this helps the body to retain calcium. It’s another great reason to encourage kids to stay active!
One factor that can impair absorption is excess phosphorus.
Like calcium, phosphorus is essential for bone health. But it’s rare for us to not get enough in the modern diet. This is because many food additives contain phosphorus. It’s also a key ingredient in soft drinks.
When you combine high phosphorus intake with a low-calcium diet, it becomes a perfect storm for calcium deficiency.
Should you supplement calcium for kids?
Here at Natural Super Kids, our philosophy is always food as medicine first. However, if your child doesn’t consume dairy or is a fussy eater, a supplement may be worth considering.
The one form to avoid in calcium supplements is calcium carbonate. This is a cheap form that is common in over-the-counter supplements. Unfortunately, it is poorly absorbed.
Instead, we prefer using:
- Calcium Hydroxyapatite
- Calcium Hydrogen Phosphate Dihydrate
These forms are well-absorbed, so your child will get more benefit out of taking them. They are typically found in practitioner-only products that you can access via your naturopath or nutritionist. We often recommend a powder-based supplement, as it is easier to incorporate into the diet.
Are you concerned that your child isn’t getting enough calcium?
It’s always a good idea to get professional support to determine and correct any nutrient deficiencies in children.
That’s why we offer online consultations to support you in a convenient way. To check out the details and book in, click here.