Sources of Calcium
Knowing where to find sources of dietary calcium is necessary for increasing a child's intake of calcium-rich foods.
- Got Milk?: If you're looking for an optimal way for your child to get calcium, try milk. Milk is one of the best sources of calcium because it also provides vitamin D, which helps the body absorb calcium. "Up until age two, we usually recommend whole milk; afterwards, two percent or skim milk is fine for a child," says Rudolph. And kids don't need to drink a lot of milk to reap its benefits; the calcium absorption of milk is generally high compared to that of vegetables, for example. There is good news for parents with lactose intolerant kids. "There are plenty of products that are lactose free, including lactose-free milk," says Rudolph. "There are also tablets and drops that can go into dairy products that help with the digestion. Children can also try soy products. Parents have to look to be sure it's fortified with calcium. Calcium-added orange juice is great too."
- The AAP recommends that alternatives such as solid cheeses and yogurt may be better tolerated than milk by lactose intolerant kids.
- Flavored Milk—Think Pink!: Though some parents worry that chocolate, strawberry, or other flavored milk will result in a high sugar intake for their kids, a study at the University of Vermont shows otherwise. Researchers evaluating over 3500 children found that kids who drink flavored milk actually consume less nutrient-poor sodas and fruit drinks than children who don't drink flavored milk, and that flavored milk boosts a child's overall calcium intake without impacting the total added sugar intake.
- Traditional Sources: Think a glass of milk is the only way for your kids to get calcium? While it is likely the most popular source of calcium, the USDA also recommends other sources of calcium such as yogurt, natural cheeses, canned fish with soft bones such as salmon and sardines, dark-green leafy vegetables, broccoli, legumes, soy products, fruit juice with added calcium, pudding or soup made with milk, and some grains. Even frozen yogurt, ice cream, and cottage cheese can boost the calcium intake in a child's diet.
- Fortified Cereal: For years parents have been told that breakfast can be the most important meal of the day, and now a good food for boosting your child's calcium is as near as your grocery store's cereal aisle. A study from the Children's Nutrition Research Center (CNRC), published in the October 2001 Journal of Pediatrics shows that kids who ate fortified cereal absorbed about 50 mg more calcium (about two additional ounces of milk) than those who ate a non-fortified cereal. Iron absorption, sometimes hindered with calcium intake, was not decreased when the kids ate the cereal.
- The Big Cheese: There's no need to avoid all cheese due to concerns about fat intake. Cheeses such as Swiss, Mozzarella, and Parmesan are naturally low in fat and excellent, natural sources of calcium. According to the USDA, a 1 1/2-ounce serving of natural cheese supplies the same amount of calcium as 1 cup of milk or yogurt. (As an added bonus, the American Dairy Association says certain cheeses such as Cheddar, Swiss, Blue, Monterey Jack, Brie, Gouda, Mozzarella, Roquefort, and processed American can help reduce the risk of tooth decay.)
- Go for Yogurt: Yogurt is a great source of calcium, and today's yogurts have smooth, creamy textures that appeal to kids. Several brands of low-fat yogurt are marketed for kids with fun packaging, yummy flavors, and mix-ins such as fruit or granola. Yogurt has Vitamin D, is a good source of protein, and contains beneficial live and active cultures.
- Non-Dairy Snacks: "There are so many foods that are fortified with calcium—cereals, fruit and grain bars, graham crackers, snack cookies made for kids . . . " says Rudolph. She encourages parents to check the food labels to find these non-dairy, fortified foods.