Calcium is essential for good health, yet many children don't consume enough of this mineral each day. According to an article published in a 2001 issue of Journal of the American College of Nutrition, the low calcium intake by Americans "has reached crisis level."
Knowing which foods contain high levels of calcium is the first step toward ensuring your child get all that she needs.
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Why Calcium Is Important
A typical human body contains around 0.907 to 1.36kg. of calcium, more than any other mineral. About 99 per cent of this calcium is present in the bones and teeth. Calcium provides the foundation for bone and tooth formation, which makes it extremely important for children whose bones are growing rapidly.
Calcium helps maintain a regular heartbeat and promotes healthy muscle contraction. It reduces blood cholesterol and can help lower blood pressure.
For young children, especially infants, calcium aids the body's use of iron. At the same time, calcium prevents the absorption of lead into bones and teeth.
A child's daily calcium needs vary by age. His needs nearly double before and during puberty when body and bone sizes increase quickly.
Find your child's age in this table from the Journal of the American College of Nutrition to determine her optimum calcium intake.
1 to 3 years--500 mg 4 to 8 years--800 mg 9 to 18 years--1,300 mg
The body absorbs calcium best when vitamin D, fluoride, and silicon are consumed at the same time, according to Ruth Yaron, author of the 1998 book "Super Baby Food." On the other hand, excessive phosphorus intake hinders calcium absorption. Carbonated sodas contain large amounts of phosphorus.
Sources of Calcium
Calcium-containing foods, as opposed to supplements, best meet the body's need for calcium, according to Yaron, partly because calcium rich foods often contain nutrients like vitamin D that aid in calcium uptake.
Dairy foods--milk, cheese, and yoghurt--contain high levels of calcium. With 300 mg of calcium, one cup of milk provides almost half the daily calcium requirement for a 4- to 8-year-old.
Other calcium rich foods include almonds, broccoli, oats, prunes, salmon with bones, sardines, spinach, tofu, and Great Northern or navy beans, according to Yaron.
Some foods like spinach, almonds, cocoa, cashews, beet greens, and soybeans contain oxalic acid, which binds to calcium as it passes through the intestines and prevents it from being absorbed. According to Dr. James Balch, author of the 2000 book "Prescription for Nutritional Healing," the normal consumption of these foods "should not pose a problem." He advises against "overindulgence," however.
Signs of Calcium Deficiency
Muscle cramping is an early sign of calcium deficiency. A person may experience insomnia, tingling in arms and legs, joint pain, brittle and weak nails, cavities, and eczema, according to Balch and Yaron.
Calcium deficiency may also cause hyperactivity, depression, and learning impairments.
Severe calcium deficiency can lead to rickets in which bones become deformed.
If you are concerned that your child does not consume enough calcium in his diet, calcium-fortified foods can help. Check package labels for the words "Calcium Fortified," "Fortified with Calcium," or a similar phrase. Many foods, including some brands of orange juice, now contain calcium.
Calcium supplements, if truly needed, will help provide calcium lacking in the diet. Give small doses of calcium throughout the day, as opposed to a single large dose.
Avoid any calcium supplement labelled as "D1-calcium-phosphate." The body does not readily absorb this form of calcium, which prevents other nutrients from being absorbed.
Dr. Balch advises against using calcium-containing antacids to supplement calcium intake. Taking enough of these antacids to provide daily calcium "would also neutralise the stomach acid needed for calcium absorption."
Discuss your child's calcium needs with her doctor before giving any calcium supplements.
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