Did you know that only 10 percent of teenage girls in the US get enough calcium? In China, the average calcium intake is less than half the recommended amount. Most infants have no calcium deficiency thanks to breast milk and formula; however, calcium intake drops dramatically after the toddler years. Girls – especially teens – consume much less dairy than boys, putting them at enormous long-term risk for osteoporosis and other diseases related to low calcium intake.
First, how much calcium is required to stay healthy? According to the US National Institute of Health, children aged 1-3 need 700mg of calcium per day and ages 4-8 need 1,000 mg per day. Most adults (ages 19-50) need 1,000 mg per day, while ages 9-18 years need the most to support rapidly-growing bones – 1,300mg per day.
All parents should do a bit of math to see how their kids are faring with calcium, especially families with girls. If you’re not sure how much calcium is contained in food, consult the USDA’s wonderful Nutrient Data Laboratory database (tinyurl.com/c62do55).
The best source of calcium remains dairy products. One cup of whole milk contains 246mg, while low-fat milk contains 264mg. Yogurt has a similar amount and cheese is another excellent choice; one slice (30g) can contain as much as 200mg. If your child dislikes cow’s milk or is lactose-intolerant, encourage them to try yogurt or cheese. You can also try low-fat or skim chocolate milk, which is better than no milk at all. A balanced breakfast could include yogurt with fresh fruit or berries, plus a slice of cheese on toast.
While dairy is the most common source of calcium, other kid-friendly choices include calcium-fortified soy milk, orange juice, cereals and granola bars. One 8oz (227ml) cup of fortified orange juice can contain 300mg of calcium. Other sources include fortified rice milk, leafy green vegetables (except spinach), and fish such as salmon or sardines. A daily multivitamin can be considered as a last resort.
Another measure you can take is to eliminate all sodas. Some data suggests that soda drinkers also have lower bone density, but there’s debate surrounding the precise reasons. But one thing is clear: soda increases the risk of obesity and diabetes. You may not have control over your kids at the mall or at a friend’s house, but you can certainly be a role model at home and never buy sodas. Ever. They’re an extremely unhealthy choice at all ages.
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Dr.Richard Saint Cyr is a family doctor at Beijing United Family Hospital, and the director of clinical marketing and communications. He runs the blog www.myhealthbeijing.com
photo from Flickr user AllyStar
This article originally appeared on p27 of the beijingkids January 2014 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com