By Dana Sivak, Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley Dietetic Intern and Northern Illinois University Student
“Got milk?” is a saying originally part of a campaign generated by the dairy industry to remind consumers of the importance for consuming milk on one of the premises that it serves as a good source of calcium. But why, we might ask, do we need to focus our energy on consuming calcium? Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, with 99% of it found in bone and teeth. Throughout the course of the day, calcium is constantly being broken down, reabsorbed, and resourced back to form new bones. In children, especially, the turnover rate of bone is ever-present to support growth and development. By age 24, on average, humans reach peak-bone mass, and thus it is important that we maximize our efforts to nutritionally meet our body’s calcium needs– so encourage your child to sport that milk mustache proudly!
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for calcium changed last November after further research determined a greater need for calcium in our diets. The following are the US Food and Nutrition Board’s updated RDA values for calcium based on age:
- 0-6 months = 200 mg
- 7-12 months = 260 mg
- 1-3 years = 700 mg
- 4-8 years = 1000 mg
- 9-18 years = 1300 mg
- 19-50 years = 1000 mg
- 51-70 years = 1000 mg (male) or 1200 (female)
- 71+ years = 1200 mg
Now you might ask, how do I know if I’m meeting my child’s needs? (…and yours?! Your health matters, too!) The simplest answer for this is to check the nutrition label for the exact content of calcium provided for the food items typically consumed in your household.
Calcium rich foods are commonly thought to be those that exist within the dairy food group, such as milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice cream. These types of food provided a natural, readily available, and rich source of calcium to our diets. But what if your household is “dairy” free or someone in your household either has a lactose intolerance or cow’s milk protein allergy? Not to worry! There are other rich food sources of calcium to consider, too! Non-dairy sources of calcium include dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, as well as broccoli, green beans, and green bell peppers. Other sources included fortified food products such as cereals, fruits juices (orange juice) and cow’s milk alternatives. Smaller amounts of calcium can be found in seafood (sardines, scallops, shrimp, whitefish/salmon), tofu, legumes and nuts, eggs, and yes – even chocolate! Table 1 demonstrates the calcium content comparison for these various food sources.
Table 1. Calcium content of various calcium-rich food sources. (from the National Institute of Health’s website.
|Food Item||Recommended Serving Size||Calcium Content (mg)|
|· Cow’s milk, nonfat, with added vitamins A and D||299 mg|
|· Silk Soymilk, unsweetened, with added calcium, vitamins A, D, B12, and riboflavin||299 mg|
|· Rice milk, unsweetened, with added calcium and vitamins A and D||283 mg|
|· Hemp Milk, Living Harvest Tempt, Vanilla||300mg|
|· Oat Milk, Pacific Foods, Organic Oat Original||350mg|
|· Coconut milk, Silk Original||450mg|
|· Almond Dream almond milk, with added vitamins A, D, and B12||300 mg|
|· Ripple Milk||450mg|
|· Silk Protein Nut milk||450 mg|
|Yogurt, plain, low fat||1 C (8 oz)||415 mg|
|Mozzarella Cheese, part skim||1.5 oz.||333 mg|
|Cheddar Cheese||1.;5 oz.||307 mg|
|Orange Juice, Calcium-fortified||6 oz||261mg|
|Tofu, firm, made with calcium sulfate||½ C||253 mg|
|Fortified Cereal||½ C||100-1000 mg|
|Spinach||1 C||216 mg|
|Green Vegetables||½ C||60 mg|
|White Fish or Salmon||3 oz. (1 filet)||70 mg|
|Nuts (Ie. Peanuts or Almonds)||¼ C||60 mg|
|Chocolate||5 squares||50 mg|
|Eggs||1 egg||25 mg|
Inadequate intake of calcium over time can cause osteopenia, a less severe and reversible precursor to osteoporosis. Those who do not sufficiently meet their calcium intake, are at an increased risk for skeletal fracture injuries. Similar to vitamin D deficiency, additional at-risk populations are those who spend most of their time indoors and those who live north of the equator. This is because Vitamin D functions with calcium to aid in its absorption. Without adequate Vitamin D, the calcium of foods eaten may not be fully functional once digested. Lastly, those who do not partake in weight-bearing activities on a routine basis are more likely to have an increased need for calcium. This is because bone is not able to be broken down and thereby calcium is not able to help contribute to the reformation of new bone. Annual bone-DEXA testing is recommended for those who are at risk.
Efforts should be made to maximize bone development during critical stages of an infant, toddlers, and child’s growth to minimize future risk of osteoporosis. If efforts cannot be made from a physical activity standpoint due to a disability, one’s calcium intake in the form of food or possible requirement for supplement should be highly prioritized. To help with such planning, it is recommended to advocate for your child’s welfare and seek out further information for the level of risk your child is at by discussing this with their physician. Furthermore, it is recommended to meet with a dietitian who can assess the diet specific to calcium and offer suggestions for ensuring adequate intake.
If you find your child has nutrition problems including failure to thrive, obesity, poor feeding skills, sensory disorders, and gastrointestinal disorders or others, schedule a nutritional evaluation with Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley today. Learn more at eastersealsdfvr.org/nutrition.