Did you know that getting enough calcium as a developing child can affect your child’s bone health as an adult? As children develop, adequate calcium intake is crucial to ensure their bones accumulate as much mass/density as they can. Bone mineralization is usually complete by age 20-25, so if maximum nutrition is not achieved in the developing years, fractures and osteopenia or osteoporosis are almost certain. According to multiple studies in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, children without adequate calcium intake may experience more fractures, and are at increased risk for osteoporosis later in life.

Toddlers from age 1 to 3 need about 500mg of calcium daily. This amount increases as your child ages. Children 4 to 8 need about 800mg, and adolescents age 9 to 18 need about 1300mg.

As I have talked about before in my commentary regarding the safety of a vegetarian diet for your children, some things must become a non-negotiable to ensure this diet is safe. Making sure your child gets enough calcium is one of these non-negotiables. Most American diets actually get the majority of calcium required through milk and dairy products. So while there are multiple sources of high calcium fruits and veggies, the amount of calcium is not nearly as high as milk and soy milk. Your child would have to eat tons and tons of broccoli and kale to equal one serving of milk. Like it or not, drinking milk and consuming other types of dairy (whether it is soy or cow’s milk) is the easiest way to ensure your child is getting enough calcium.

Soy milk, cow’s milk and soy/cow cheeses are also fortified with other nutrients, most importantly Vitamin D. We will talk about Vitamin D in another post, but a very important thing to note is that calcium cannot be absorbed properly without adequate Vitamin D. There have actually been studies showing that eating animal proteins can diminish the calcium supply by increasing calcium loss through the urine. We could assume here that with less animal protein intake (cow’s milk, meat, cow’s milk cheeses) and adequate calcium intake from other sources, children on a vegetarian diet should be able to get adequate calcium intake.

IF your child is going through a phase and refusing to drink milk, they need to be taking a calcium supplement! There are multiple kids supplements with adequate calcium and vitamin D that your kids should love. Most multivitamins DO NOT have enough calcium to be considered a supplemental level. If your child is in need of a calcium supplement, it should be separate from their multivitamin to ensure the dosage is adequate. Supplements are not considered equal to obtaining calcium through fortified or high calcium foods because calcium supplements lack the other nutrients gained in calcium rich foods.

So protect your child from fractures and osteoporosis later in life! Make sure they are getting enough calcium in their diet, and if they are not, do not be afraid to use a supplement.

High Calcium Foods:
Kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, broccoli, bok choy, dried figs, blackstrap molasses and lime-processed tortillas. However, to meet calcium requirements from these foods alone would be difficult, even with large portions. Leah Landon, head of Gymtime’s Kitchen Little Cooking School, includes kale and broccoli as two of the “secret ingredients” featured weekly in the 16-week Kids in the Kitchen course.

Calcium Fortified Foods:
Soy milk, soy yogurt and soy cheese, as well as calcium-precipitated tofu and calcium-fortified cereals, breakfast bars, pastas, waffles and juices.

Supplement Ideas:
Tums (Yes! A cheap option that is actually recommended by physicians), Caltrate, Veg Life, Gummy Cuties, Citracal Children’s – and other countless options.

SHARED By: Claire O’Bryan, APN-C
Claire O’Bryan is a Nurse Practitioner at the Medical University of South Carolina, located in Charleston, SC. With an undergraduate degree in Exercise Science, Claire brings a basic foundation of nutrition and exercise, coupled with extensive knowledge of anatomy and physiology. She utilizes this unique skill-set in her daily patient work, while also sharing her expertise with readers online through her blog, HeavyontheVeggie.com. As a vegetarian and most-of-the-time vegan, Claire is committed to helping people realize the full potential of food – the good and the bad, the risks and the rewards. She currently resides in Charleston with her husband, Ed, and their dog.

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