BY LISA JORDAN, FAMILY CHILD CARE PROVIDER/WRITER, WARREN
Watching TV or leafing through magazines, you’ve seen them, the “Got Milk?” ads to raise awareness for calcium intake. Growing up on my grandparents’ dairy farm, I learned to appreciate dairy products and their nutritional value. As a parent, I encouraged my boys to drink milk from a young age.
Did you know calcium is your body’s most abundant nutrient with the majority of it stored in your bones and teeth where it helps support their structure? However, calcium is used for more than bone and teeth health. It is necessary for proper muscle and nerve function, blood clotting, and for good heart health. Getting the recommended daily amount of calcium aids in lowering PMS—premenstrual syndrome. Calcium also protects against certain diseases like colon cancer and helps to lower blood pressure. Studies suggest diets rich in calcium lower the risk for being overweight.
Lack of calcium can affect your complete body health, including weakened bone mass, which increases the risk for fractures. In later years, a lack of calcium puts bodies, especially females, at risk for osteoporosis, a degenerative bone disease in which bones become brittle.
People of all ages need calcium for optimal health. Unfortunately, children, especially those between the ages of eleven and fifteen are not getting the amount of calcium they need on a daily basis to build strong bones and teeth.
Studies have shown children and teenagers, particularly girls, are lacking one-third to one-half of the recommended daily intake of calcium. Parents should be alarmed by this deficiency because without the necessary calcium, their children risk bone density loss and other negative impacts on their health.
Drinking beverages like soda and coffee leach calcium from the body, preventing its absorption.
Children between the ages of one and three require approximately 500 mg per day, which can be found in about two eight-ounce glasses of milk. School age children between the ages of four and eight require about 800 mg per day, which can be found in about three eight-ounce glasses of milk. Older children and teenagers between the ages of nine and eighteen need at least 1300 mg on a daily basis, which is can be found in about four eight-ounce glasses of milk.
To balance proper calcium intake with calories, consider serving dairy products lower in fat. The taste is similar while the calories are less. Vitamin D is necessary for the proper absorption of calcium, so be sure to read those milk containers and food labels to be sure they are vitamin D fortified.
If your child has a dairy allergy or is lactose-intolerant, have no fear. Milk and dairy products are not the only sources for calcium. Alternative milks like soymilk and rice milk are good substitutes as long as they are fortified with calcium and vitamins. Certain leafy green vegetables such as broccoli, kale, and spinach are good sources for calcium. Other sources of calcium include, but not limited to oranges, salmon, sardines, tofu, peanuts, peas, black beans, baked beans, sesame seeds, blackstrap molasses, almonds, corn tortillas, and brown sugar.
Parents and providers can sneak calcium-rich foods into their families and children’s diets in several ways.
A great breakfast smoothie made with fresh fruit and yogurt is a nutritious way to start the day. Include spinach leaves in tossed salads. Add nuts to muffins, oatmeal, and breakfast cereals, but be careful when serving these to young children or those with nut allergies. Add beans to soups, stews, and pasta dishes. Substitute low fat or nonfat milk for water when making oatmeal. Replace mayonnaise with yogurt when making dips and dressings. Serve broccoli and dairy-based dips for snacks instead of high fat choices. Buy calcium-fortified juices and cereals.
By making simple changes in diets and reading food labels, parents, providers, and educators can help increase their children’s calcium intakes. Enlist your family’s help in planning pleasing menus and shopping for groceries. Work together to build strong bones and healthy bodies.
Lisa Jordan is a family child care provider in Warren. She received her early childhood education degree from Clarion University in May 2009.