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Calcium is an important part of the daily diet, especially for children. It is essential for the growth of strong bones and teeth. A low calcium diet in childhood can increase the risk of osteoporosis and bone fracture later in life.
A balanced diet including low fat dairy products, fruits and vegetables combined with appropriate physical activity is important for bone health. Dietitians and dentists recommend that children meet their calcium needs by eating at least three serves of high calcium dairy foods or the equivalent of calcium-fortified foods each day.
Establishing good exercise and dietary habits in childhood is important to encourage healthy lifestyle habits throughout the person’s life.
Bones need calcium
Calcium is the most common mineral in the body. Around 99 per cent of the calcium in the body is found in the bones or skeleton. The rest is in teeth, soft tissues and blood. The skeleton is a living tissue and acts as a calcium reservoir, which needs to be topped up daily. It is important to make sure your child gets enough calcium in their diet to provide for the development of strong bones and teeth.
Calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D work together in the body to build healthy bones and maintain a high level of bone density (known as peak bone mass). This reduces the risk of osteoporosis later in life. Osteoporosis can lead to fragile bones and an increased risk of fractures.
Milk promotes calcium absorption
Dairy foods are the richest source of calcium in the Australian diet. Calcium absorption is helped by the milk sugar (lactose), which seems to assist in uptake of calcium by the body. Vitamin D and phosphorus also help the body absorb calcium.
Don’t offer too much milk
Too much milk can cause problems. Drinking more than 600ml to 800ml of milk a day may decrease your child’s appetite. They may eat less of other foods and it may affect how their body absorbs iron.
Children who don’t drink milk
If your child refuses to drink milk, calcium can be obtained from the following foods:
Reduced fat milk
Milk is a major energy source during the rapid growth experienced by young children. Reduced fat milk is only suitable for certain age groups.
Recommended amount of dietary calcium for children
Babies, children and teenagers require the following amounts of calcium:
Best sources of calcium in food
Breast milk and infant formulas are the main source of calcium for children under one year of age.
The current recommendation for children aged four to 11 years is to eat three serves of calcium rich dairy products each day.
Foods that provide a good source of calcium include:
Pregnancy and breastfeeding
During pregnancy and breastfeeding, the mother must consume enough dietary calcium to cover her own needs and those of the growing baby. However, calcium absorption increases during pregnancy and so no additional calcium is required during pregnancy. The exception to this is pregnant adolescents. They need more calcium as they are still growing as well as having to meet the calcium requirements for the growing baby.
Lactose intolerance is usually a temporary, acquired condition in young children. It often follows acute gastroenteritis. It is common in Asian communities (80 to 90 per cent), but is less common in adult Caucasians (10 to 20 per cent). However, most people with lactose intolerance can include small amounts milk products in their diets. Cheese and yoghurt may be better tolerated.
There are a variety of low lactose milks, fortified soy drinks and formulas available for children with lactose intolerance so that calcium intake is not reduced.
Where to get help
Things to remember
This information has been sourced from Better Health Channel.