Nutritional Needs: How Much Calcium is Needed?
Most of the time, when people talk about calcium they’re concerned about older people developing weak bones, or osteoporosis. Younger people may not have osteoporosis, but they still need calcium just as much.
Calcium is a mineral that is critical for the formation of strong bones, as well as proper muscle and nerve function. The level of calcium in the blood must stay within a certain range; and many hormones, as well as the kidneys, have the ability to maintain calcium in the right range. Most calcium in the body
is found in the bones and teeth. If there is not enough calcium in a person’s diet, calcium will be pulled out of the bones to maintain the right range in the blood and other tissues.
Children who do not eat dairy products might eventually become calcium deficient. However, there are alternative ways to get calcium. Some foods contain it naturally, and others are enriched with extra calcium.
Children rarely need calcium supplements. They simply need to take in enough calcium to build healthy, strong bones. While there is research examining whether high doses of calcium in youth translates into stronger bones when they are older older, there is no proof that extra doses of calcium in childhood will prevent osteoporosis. Doctors cannot tell whether or not a child can “bank” extra calcium and bone for use in their old age.
Pregnant women need to take enough calcium for both themselves and their growing babies. They are recommended to take in 1,000 mg to 1,300 mg of calcium per day, depending on their age. Breast- feeding women are also advised to take supplemental calcium so they will have enough in their breast milk, which is the best food source for all infants less than six months of age. After six months of age, babies can start eating other foods. They should still be getting breast milk or formula, and not cow’s milk.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) suggests the following amounts of calcium for children:
- Infants 6 to 12 months: 260 mg/day
- Children 1 to 3 years: 500 to 700 mg/day
- Children 4 to 8 years: 800 to 1,000 mg/day
Calcium can be found in all milk and milk products. Small amounts of calcium can also be found in some green, leafy vegetables; certain fish; some kinds of dried fruit; and sesame seeds. Most young children will only eat dairy products.
There are about 300 mg of calcium in an 8-ounce serving of milk, regardless of fat content. An ounce of cheese has about 200 mg of calcium. 8 ounces of yogurt can have as much as 450 mg of calcium.
Other foods are fortified with calcium, meaning extra is added. Orange juice can be enriched with calcium, and most breakfast cereals have added calcium. Bread and even some kinds of bottled water have added calcium. When a product is calcium-enriched, it is labeled as such. The label will say what percentage of a day’s calcium is in a serving of the food. This is based on the adult requirement of 1000 mg per day.
A serving of instant oatmeal may have up to 10% of the 1000 mg of calcium recommended. That means it has 100 mg of calcium. For a one- to three-year-old child, that would be one-fifth of his daily calcium. Many cereals are highly enriched with calcium. Three-quarters of a cup of General Mills, Whole Grain TOTAL has 1104 mg of calcium in one serving.
If your child or other family members are lactose intolerant, there are many choices of milk and milk products without lactose. Milk-allergic children can often drink soymilk. Enriched soymilk has 300 mg of calcium, as does 8 ounces of enriched orange juice. Vegetarians need to choose food carefully for their children to ensure that it has enough calcium.
In general, it is recommended to break up servings of calcium throughout the day. In reality, many young children can get a lot of their calcium at breakfast. A great approach is to have milk with every meal, if your child will drink it. Low fat or nonfat milk is preferred to keep total fat intake low, but any milk will give your child the calcium he or she needs.
On a side note, vitamin D must be taken in order for bones to absorb calcium and allow it to do everything it needs to do. A lot of foods enriched with calcium also have extra vitamin D.
Children ages six months to five years need calcium. Children between these ages can usually get these nutrients from a normal, healthy diet. The only reason to supplement these vitamins is if a child is unable to eat a regular diet; for example, a child with severe food allergies, celiac disease, or some kind of chronic illness causing a loss of nutrients.
If you have any reason to suspect that you or your child are not getting enough calcium, you should speak with a doctor.