BONE ACTION WEEK:
Calcium for strong bones and teeth – teaching kids about calcium and alternative sources
Calcium rich foods are not only delicious and loved by kids but also play a very important role within the body. Calcium is critical for normal development and maintenance of bones as well as functioning of neurotransmitters and muscles. Calcium is stored in the teeth and bones where it provides structure and strength and is used by almost every cell in the body.
Why is calcium important during growth stages?
Calcium is a very important mineral to keep a close eye on when it comes to the health of children and adolescents. Bone mass increases approximately 7 times from birth to puberty and a further 3 times during adolescence. Peak bone mass, the maximum amount of bone to be developed, occurs at different ages for boys and girls but is generally between the ages of 18 to 25 years. Bone mass remains constant until around 50 years in men and until menopause in women, a decrease in bone mass may then gradually occur. Without an adequate calcium intake, children and adults are at an increased risk of brittle and weak bones, a condition called osteoporosis. It’s very hard to treat osteoporosis, making prevention paramount!
What is the recommended daily intake of calcium?
- Children & Adolescents
- 1-3 years 500mg/day
- 4-8 years 700mg/day
- 9 -18 years 1,000-1,300mg/day
- 19-70 years 1,000mg/day (unless women)
- >51 years women 1,300mg/day
- 70 years men 1,3000mg/day
What are the best sources of Calcium?
Whilst milk and milk-based products may instantly spring to mind when we think of calcium, there are plenty of other non-dairy options. If your child does not like, or has intolerance to dairy, try including a variety of non-dairy sources of calcium in their diet daily. The table below provides a guide for some nutritious options; some may even be a pleasant surprise:
|Non-dairy Sources of Calcium|
|Food||Milligrams of calcium (per 100g)|
|Unhulled sesame seeds (tahini)||352|
|Soy beans (dried)||180|
|Bok Choy, cooked||86|
|Dairy sources of calcium (by way of comparison)|
|Natural yoghurt||211mg (per 100g)|
|Cow’s milk||103mg (per 100g)|
|Feta cheese||325mg (per 100g)|
What other dietary practices can affect calcium levels?
Whilst your child may be eating the recommended intake of calcium, there are some other dietary practices, which affect how calcium is absorbed and used by the body:
High sodium diet: high sodium intake can affect calcium excretion; avoid going over 2,300mg of sodium (one teaspoon) daily; an easy way is to reduce the amount of packaged foods purchased and opting for wholefoods.
Low protein diets: lack of dietary protein can impact on calcium absorption; always include a source of protein at each meal and snack, eggs, fish, meat, legumes, tofu, milk or cheese.
High phosphate diets: Avoid soft drinks high in phosphates, try soda water with fresh fruit as an alternative; your kids will love it!
Are there any other ways to build strong bones?
Ensuring your child consumes enough calcium is a good start when it comes to building strong bones and teeth. However, there are further dietary and lifestyle practices, which can support further bone growth and see your children well supported through adolescence and into adulthood:
The hormone cortisol is released in times of stress and if produced in excess can break down bones. If your child’s stress levels are on the rise, make sure they eat protein rich snacks to keep blood sugar in check and schedule time out of their busy day to play and relax.
Eat more insoluble fibre
Eating enough fibre allows for production of short-chain fatty acid Butyrate; Butyrate helps the body assimilate calcium and magnesium, necessary for our body to be able to use the calcium we consume. Beneficial sources of fibre include wholegrains, vegetables, nuts and seeds and even avocado.
Munch on magnesium rich foods
Magnesium is calcium’s partner in crime when it comes to bone health; adequate levels of magnesium have been shown to assist with bone density and to maintain bone integrity. Good sources of magnesium include: leafy greens, nuts and seeds, fish, avocado and banana. Start your child’s day by adding a handful of greens, avocado, nuts and banana to soymilk for a bone-boosting smoothie!
Get some sunrays
Vitamin D is needed to assist with calcium absorption and the use of calcium within the body. To keep Vitamin D levels stocked up make sure your child is getting 10-15 minutes sun exposure daily.
Bone is a living tissue and without regular exercise, bones may weaken and become brittle. Encourage your kids to play daily; the most effective types of exercise for bone health are weight bearing (jogging, tennis, dancing) and strength training (weights or body weight).
Add a handful of leafy greens to each meal daily
Leafy greens are a powerful package when it comes to bone health. They are a rich source of calcium, vitamin K and boron; all needed to accelerate bone and cartilage healing, improve rate of bone growth and bone mineralisation. Try incorporating a handful of leafy greens into the meals you cook, stir into casseroles, lightly steam with vegetables or toss into salads.
To celebrate the benefits of calcium in the diet, here is a recipe your kids will love and guaranteed to make getting their recommended calcium intake a breeze!
Tofu Tacos with Kale Salad and Spicy Yoghurt Sauce the benefits of calcium rich tofu and yoghurt combined with magnesium rich avocado and kale!
Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing (AGDHA) 2005, Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand, Australian Government.
Booth, F et al 2014, ‘Lack of exercise is a major cause of chronic disease,’ Compr Physiol, Vol. 2, No. 2, pp. 1143-1211.
Castiglioni, S et al 2013, ‘Magnesium and Osteoporosis: Current State of Knowledge and Future Research Directions, Nutrients, Vol. 5, No. 8, pp. 3022-3033.
Sahni, S et al 2015, ‘Dietary Approaches for Bone health: Lessons from the Framingham Osteoporosis study, Current Osteoporosis Reports, Vol. 13, No. 4, pp. 245-55.
Slavin, J 2013, ‘Fiber and Prebiotics: Mechanisms and Health Benefits,’ Nutrients, Vol. 5, No. 4, pp. 1417-1435.