Nutrition in children and teens

We all know that good nutrition is important for health. However, one important nutrient many children and teens do not get enough of is calcium - found mainly in milk and dairy products and in dark green, leafy vegetables and foods with added calcium.

Calcium is a nutrient that helps to make bones and teeth strong and healthy. It builds bone mass and helps reduce the risk of bone fractures due to osteoporosis, a condition where bones become fragile and can break easily.

How do we build strong bones?

Our bodies continually remove and replace small amounts of calcium from our bones. If our body removes more calcium than it replaces, the bones become weaker and have a greater chance of breaking. But by getting the recommended amount of calcium, you can help your bones stay strong.

Calcium needs are highest during childhood and teen years, because bones are growing quickly. Most of the calcium that makes bones strong is added by the age of 17. Eating and drinking foods that are good sources of calcium, children and teens can help store 
this important nutrient in their bones for later in life.

As adults, we lose calcium. The more calcium that is in the bones when losses begin, the less likely it is that our bones will become fragile and fracture easily.

How much calcium do children need?

Nutrition guidelines recommend that children aged 4 to 8 get 800 milligrams of calcium per day, or about two servings of dairy products daily. Teens and young adults aged 9 to 18 need more calcium because their bones are growing more than at other times in life. They should have 1,300 milligrams of calcium per day, or about 3 servings of dairy products daily. One 8 ounce glass of milk has about 300 milligrams of calcium, so just a few glasses can go a long way towards getting the calcium needed each day. 

How much calcium do children get?

Unfortunately, most children and teens do not meet the calcium recommendations. National nutrition surveys in the UK have shown that only 19% of teenage girls and 52% of teenage boys get the recommended amounts of calcium. In fact, teenage girls only average slightly over 700 milligrams of calcium per day, well below the amount needed for their normal growth and development.

Where do we find calcium?

Low-fat and fat-free milk and dairy products, such as cheese and yogurt, are excellent sources of calcium. Milk and dairy products also provide other essential nutrients, all necessary for good bone health and development. These include phosphorus, magnesium, and added vitamin D. Other sources of calcium include dark green, leafy vegetables, such as kale, and also broccoli, soybeans and tofu processed with calcium, orange juice with calcium added, and other calcium-fortified foods.

Calcium content of foods

Food labels can tell us how much calcium is in one serving of a food; they also list the percentage of the “Daily Value” next to the calcium amount. We should try to consume foods with 20% or more of the Daily Value of calcium. Foods with less than 5% DV for calcium only provide us with a small amount of what we need each day.

For most adults, the requirement is one gram of calcium daily, but children aged 9 to 18 need extra calcium. They need an additional 300 milligrams of calcium each day, or an extra 8 ounce glass of milk, or extra servings of other calcium-rich foods.

What is the best kind of milk?

Fat-free or skim and low-fat milk and dairy products are excellent choices because they make it easy to get enough calcium without adding a lot of extra saturated fat to the diet. For example, a glass of whole milk contributes ¼ of our total saturated fat for a day, while a glass of low-fat milk contributes only about seven percent of total saturated fat.

There are now a variety of milk products available with different contents of fat and different flavours, but an 8 ounce glass of 
any type still contains about 300 milligrams of calcium.

Babies under one year old should drink only breast milk or iron-fortified formula. Children ages one to 2 should drink whole 
milk rather than reduced fat varieties because some fats are necessary for their early growth and development.

Between ages 2 and 5, parents should gradually transition children to low-fat or fat-free milk. Beginning at age 2, children should get most of their calories from grain products, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products and beans, lean meat and poultry, fish, or nuts.

Can everyone drink milk?

Lactose, the sugar found in milk and dairy products, can cause abdominal discomfort in some people. For individuals with lactose intolerance there are other options including Lactose Free Milk now widely available in Dubai. Many people can eat dairy foods such as cheeses or yogurt, which seem to cause fewer symptoms.

Some of us, however, are allergic to milk and dairy products and should avoid them completely. For individuals who cannot have any milk, calcium could be obtained from non-dairy sources, like vegetables. There are many other foods with added calcium and supplements can also be a way to add necessary calcium to our diet.

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