Why Calcium is Important
Calcium is vital for building strong bones and teeth, promoting nerve and muscle function,helping blood clot, and activating enzymes that convert food into energy.
How much calcium does your child need?
Ages 1 to 3 years: 500 milligrams (mg) per day
Ages 4 to 8 years: 800 mg per day
Ages 9 to 18 years: 1300 mg per day
Your child doesn’t have to get the recommended daily amount of calcium every day. Instead, aim for that amount as an average over the course of a few days or a week.
The best sources of calcium
Dairy products such as milk, yogurt, and cheese are some of the best sources of calcium, but you’ll also find it in less expected places. Some calcium-rich foods to try:
- 1/4 cup raw tofu, prepared with calcium sulfate: 217 mg
(The calcium content of tofu varies, depending on how it’s processed. Check the label.)
- 1/2 cup low-fat plain yogurt: 207 mg
- 1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses: 200 mg
- 1/2 cup low-fat fruit yogurt: 122 to 192 mg
- 1/2 cup calcium-fortified orange juice: 133 to 250 mg
- 1/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese: 167 mg
- 1/2 cup milk: 150 mg
- 1/2 cup chocolate milk: 144 mg
- 1/2 ounce Swiss cheese: 112 mg
- 1/2 cup vanilla frozen yogurt, soft serve: 102 mg
- 1/2 ounce cheddar cheese: 102 mg
- 1 slice calcium-fortified bread: 100 mg
- 1/2 ounce mozzarella: 91 mg
- 1/2 slice cheese pizza (fast food chain): 91 mg
- 1/4 cup collard greens: 89 mg
- 1/4 cup homemade pudding (from mix or scratch): 76 mg
- 1 tablespoon tahini (sesame seed butter): 64 mg
- 1/4 cup turnip greens: 62 mg
- 1 ounce canned pink salmon, solids with bone: 61 mg
- 1/4 cup cooked spinach: 60 mg
- 1/2 cup ready-to-eat cereal, calcium fortified: 51 mg
- 1/2 cup soy beverage, calcium fortified: 40 to 250 mg
The amount of calcium a food contains will vary somewhat, depending on the brand, the size of the fruit or vegetable, and so on.
Kids may eat more or less than the amounts of food shown, depending on their age and appetite. You can estimate the nutrient content accordingly.
Tips for maximizing your child’s calcium intake
Some experts believe that many children are falling short of their calcium requirement, in part because juice and other nondairy drinks are so popular that kids are drinking less milk. Here are some simple steps you can take to make sure your child gets enough calcium:
- Use milk instead of water when making cereals, hot cocoa, and soups.
- Use evaporated milk in place of regular milk in recipes – it has twice the calcium of regular milk.
- Add yogurt to fruit salads; nonfat milk powder to pancake batter, sauces, and smoothies; and cheese to vegetables, sauces, and mashed potatoes.
- Buy calcium-fortified juice, bread, and cereal.
- Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium, so make sure your child is getting enough vitamin D, too.
Can your child get too much calcium?
Milk is a wonderful source of nutrients, but it is possible to overdo it. Kids who drink too much milk or take too much calcium in the form of supplements (or a combination of those) can exceed 2,500 mg daily, the maximum amount considered safe by the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine. (This is called the tolerable upper intake level or UL.)
How much milk is too much? If your 1- to 3-year-old drinks more than three 8-ounce cups of milk or your 4- to 8-year-old drinks more than four 8-ounce cups of milk a day, it may be time to cut back, especially if he’s eating other calcium-rich foods such as yogurt and cheese.
An excess of calcium can lead to iron deficiency because it blocks the absorption of iron, as well as other minerals such as zinc, magnesium, and phosphorus. Large quantities of milk also add extra calories that can contribute to obesity. And kids who fill up on milk often lose their appetite for other healthy foods.