Calcium is an essential mineral for children, playing a crucial role in their growth and development, in fact calcium is the most abundant mineral in our body.  In this article I discuss why calcium is important for your children,  list food sources to ensure your children are getting sufficient calcium in their diet and discuss how to optimise calcium absorption.   I also discuss ways to test your child’s calcium levels (don’t worry, no blood test is needed). 

Importance of Calcium in Growing Children

Bone Development and Growth: Calcium is the primary building block of bones and teeth but also skin, muscles and joints.   It helps in the development of a strong skeletal structure. During childhood and adolescence, bones are growing rapidly, making adequate calcium intake crucial to maximize bone density and overall bone health.

Teeth Formation:  Essential for the development and maintenance of healthy teeth. It helps in the formation of the hard outer shell of the teeth, called enamel.

Muscle Function: Calcium is vital for muscle contraction. Adequate calcium levels ensure proper functioning of muscles, including the heart muscle.

Nervous System: Calcium plays a crucial role in neurotransmission, helping nerve cells communicate effectively. This is essential for cognitive development and overall nervous system health.  

Blood Clotting:  Necessary for the blood clotting process, which prevents excessive bleeding from injuries.

Hormonal Secretion: Calcium is involved in the secretion of hormones and enzymes that are important for various bodily functions including hormones for growth, sleep and mood.  

Recommended Daily Intake

The recommended daily intake of calcium varies by age:

  • Infants (0-12 months): 200-260 mg
  • Children (1-3 years): 700 mg
  • Children (4-8 years): 1,000 mg
  • Adolescents (9-18 years): 1,300 mg

This is equivalate to 3-5 serves of calcium each day.   It is best to simply ensure your child has calcium rich foods with every meal. 

Food Sources of Calcium

Ensuring your child gets enough calcium can be achieved through a balanced diet that includes a variety of calcium-rich foods:

Dairy Products:  Milk, yogurt, and cheese are good sources of calcium if you tolerate dairy. If you can’t tolerate dairy, don’t worry, there are lots of other great foods that are rich in calcium and better absorbed that diary.

Leafy Green Vegetables:  Kale, broccoli, and spinach contain significant amounts of calcium. However, spinach also contains oxalates, which can bind calcium and reduce its absorption. My recordation is swap, kale, spinach and other green seasonally to ensure you get variety.

Fish:  Canned fish with bones, such as sardines and salmon, are rich in calcium and well absorbed.

Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, sesame seeds, and chia seeds are good sources of calcium. They also contain lots of other great minerals and fibre for your gut health.

Legumes: Beans, lentils, and chickpeas also contain calcium.

Other Sources: Tofu, especially when made with calcium sulfate, and some whole grains like quinoa can contribute to calcium intake.

Tips for Enhancing Calcium Absorption

Vitamin D:  Vitamin D is crucial for calcium absorption. Ensure your child gets enough sunlight exposure and include foods rich in vitamin D like fatty fish, fortified dairy products, and egg yolks.

Balanced Diet: A balanced diet with a variety of foods helps optimize calcium absorption. Avoid excessive consumption of foods high in oxalates (like spinach) and phytates (found in grains and legumes) as they can inhibit calcium absorption.  

Limit soft drinks, caffeine and tea.   Also drinking soft drinks, tea (even herbal tea) and coffee with meals inhibits nutrient absorption.    Soft drinks and sports drinks can leach calcium from the bones and should be avoid or at least minimised for growing children. 

By ensuring a diet rich in calcium and supporting nutrients, you can promote healthy growth and development in your child, laying the foundation for strong bones and overall health throughout their life.

If you are concerned about your child’s calcium intake book a consultation to discuss the best forms of calcium for your child, how to get your children to eat calcium rich foods and what to do if you are don’t eat dairy to ensure they still get sufficient calcium for their growth and developments.    Take the guessing out of understanding your child’s calcium levels and test your child’s calcium levels with Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis.

A quick word on supplements; I don’t recommend supplements unless you have tested nutrient levels and are sure there is a deficiency, supplements will only help if there is a deficiency. Whole foods are the best source of nutrients but if you do need to use a supplement, even temporarily, it is important to use one that is well absorbed and utilised by the body.