Why Calcium is So Important

As your child grows, it is essential to make sure that he gets a healthy and balanced diet on a daily basis. A healthy diet filled with all the essential vitamins and minerals can help your child grow and develop properly, giving him the energy to pursue all the activities that he loves. In particular, it is important that you child gets an appropriate amount of calcium on a daily basis. In the right amounts, calcium can help to ensure the formation of strong bones as well as contribute to other vital bodily processes.

What is Calcium?
Calcium is a mineral that is found in very large quantities in our bodies. 99% of the calcium in the body is found in the bones and teeth, while the remaining 1% is located throughout the bloodstream and the rest of your body’s cells. Calcium cannot be produced by your body; instead, the mineral must be supplied to your body through the food that you eat. There are a variety of good foods that are rich in calcium which your child should eat on a daily basis.

Why is Calcium Important?
Calcium plays a number of important roles in the body:

  • Bone Formation: Calcium is an essential component for the formation of strong bones. As your child grows, her body will gradually lay down new bones that will help her grow and develop. In order to make these bones, the body binds calcium with another component, called phosphate.
  • Teeth Formation: Calcium is also used by the body to develop teeth and tooth enamel. In particular, calcium helps to guard against cavities and ensure that teeth are strong and healthy.

Calcium also plays a minor role in the stimulation of muscle contractions, the release of hormones, and the transmission of nerve impulses.

How Much Calcium Should Your Child Get?
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has outlined how much calcium your child should be getting depending upon her age. Children between the ages of 4 and 9 should receive at least 800 milligrams of calcium on a daily basis, while children between the ages of 10 and 19 should be getting at least 1300 milligrams of calcium every day. This is the equivalent of about three to four servings of a product rich in calcium each day. One serving might look like:

  • one, eight-ounce glass of milk
  • one, 1 ½ ounce piece of cheese
  • six ounces of yogurt

Sources of Calcium
While dairy products tend to be the best source of calcium for young children, it is not always possible to offer these food items to your child. Children that are lactose intolerant, allergic to cow’s milk protein, or non-lacto vegetarian or vegan, will need to find an alternative source of calcium. Some great foods high in calcium include:

  • soy milk or rice milk
  • leafy green vegetables (including collard greens, kale, and bok choy)
  • broccoli
  • salmon with bones
  • tofu
  • enriched fruit juices and cereals

Ensuring Proper Calcium Absorption
Unfortunately, calcium isn’t always absorbed that efficiently in your child’s stomach. This is because calcium needs a bit of a helping hand in order to get into the bloodstream. In particular, a good supply of vitamin D is essential for proper calcium absorption. 200 IUs of vitamin D everyday will help calcium to be absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract, ensuring that your child gets the most out of his calcium intake.

Vitamin D is produced by the body when it is exposed to sunlight, particularly between the months of April and October. Encourage your child to be active outdoors during this time period. Large amounts of vitamin D can also be found in egg yolks and fish.

What If Your Child Doesn’t Get the Proper Amount of Calcium?
Without the proper amount of calcium in his bloodstream, your child could experience a number of health problems. In order to compensate for a lack of calcium in the bloodstream, the body will begin to take calcium from the teeth and bones. This can cause bones to become brittle, leading to fractures and even osteoporosis. If your child goes for a long period without the proper amount of calcium, it could result in severe calcium deficiency. This is characterized by:

  • bone fractures
  • fatigue
  • muscle pain and spasm (tetany)
  • bone deformities (rickets)

If your child is exhibiting any of these signs, tell your health care provider right away. Additionally, if you are worried about your child’s calcium intake you may want to investigate daily calcium supplements. These are available in chewable tablets and can provide up to 600 milligrams of calcium every day. Speak with your health care provider about a supplement that is right for your child.

Spicing up those Snacks: Making Calcium More Attractive
As you have probably already discovered, some children just don’t care for the taste of those foods that are rich in calcium. But this doesn’t mean you should give up on trying to make sure your child gets her calcium. Instead, spice up those foods by using the following tips!

  • Try adding flavored syrup to a glass of milk. Chocolate, strawberry, and even banana syrup can make a world of difference to your child. Plus, they are low in sugar and calories!
  • Sprinkle some cheese on top of vegetables, or add a light cheese sauce to meals. This will add extra calcium to those leafy green vegetables and make them taste great!
  • Make soups and warm cereals with milk instead of water. This is a great way to sneak some extra calcium into your child, while enriching the taste of some rather bland foods.
  • Add low-fat ice cream or yogurt to a variety of different fruits. This will not only increase your child’s calcium intake, but it will also encourage him to develop his taste for healthy food items.