Calcium: A Guide for Parents

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calciumCalcium is a mineral that gives strength to your bones. Calcium is also necessary for many of your body’s functions, such as blood clotting and nerve and muscle function. During the teenage years (particularly ages 11–15), your daughter’s bones are developing quickly and are storing calcium so that her skeleton will be strong later in life. Nearly half of all bone is formed during these years. It’s important that your daughter gets plenty of calcium in her diet, because if the rest of the body doesn’t get the calcium it needs, it takes calcium from the only source that it has: the bones. This can lead to brittle bones later in life and broken bones at any time. Unfortunately, only 12% of teen girls actually get enough calcium in their diet.

What is osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a bone disease that causes bones to become fragile and more likely to break. It develops slowly and is usually caused by a combination of genetics and too little calcium in the diet. Osteoporosis can also lead to shortened height because of collapsing spinal bones and can cause a hunched back.

How do I know if my daughter’s at risk?

Several factors can put a young person at risk for developing osteoporosis.

They include:

  • Being white
  • Being female
  • Being underweight
  • Having a family history of osteoporosis
  • Having irregular periods
  • Doing little or no exercise
  • Not getting enough calcium in your diet
  • Smoking
  • Drinking large amounts of alcohol
Osteoporosis can be prevented. There are some risk factors that your daughter cannot change (such as her race and family history), but there are some she can! She should eat a healthy diet, exercise on a regular basis, and not smoke!

How much calcium does my daughter need?

Children and teenagers between the ages of 9 and 18 should aim for 1,300 milligrams per day, which is about 4 servings of high–calcium food or drinks. Each 8–ounce glass of milk (whether skim, 1%, 2%, or whole) and each cup of yogurt has about 300 milligrams of calcium. Adults 19 to 50 years of age should aim for 1,000 milligrams per day.

How do I know how much calcium is in the foods my daughter eats?

For foods that contain calcium and have a nutrition facts label, there will be a % Daily Value (DV) listed next to the word calcium. To figure out how many milligrams of calcium a serving of food has, take the % DV, drop the % sign, and add a zero. The table below shows how much calcium is in some calcium–rich foods from different food groups.

What foods contain calcium?

You probably know that dairy foods such as milk and cheese are good sources of calcium, but did you know that tofu and beans contain calcium, too? Even if you don’t drink milk or eat cheese, you can get the calcium you need from other foods. See the list of high–calcium foods at the end of this guide.

What if my daughter is lactose intolerant?

If your daughter is lactose intolerant and can’t drink milk, there are plenty of other ways she can get enough calcium. These include eating foods high in calcium and drinking fortified soy milk, fortified juice, or Lactaid milk (the lactase enzyme that your daughter is missing has been added into the milk). She can also take lactase enzyme tablets before eating dairy products to help digest the lactose sugar in the milk. Some people who are lactose intolerant can tolerate having small amounts of milk or other dairy products at a time.

How can my daughter get more calcium in her diet?

Here are some meal ideas to increase calcium in your daughter’s diet:

Breakfast:

  • Cereal with milk
  • Milk instead of water when making oatmeal
  • Drink calcium–fortified orange juice
  • Breakfast smoothie with a cup of milk or yogurt and a handful of frozen fruit
  • Slice of cheese with a bagel or English muffin. Most cheeses, except for cream cheese, are high in calcium.

Lunch:

  • Milk (including chocolate or strawberry) instead of soda at school
  • Yogurt with a sandwich
  • Add cheese to a sandwich

Snacks:

  • Coffee–flavored drinks or milk–rich latte (decaf is best)
  • Cereal bars or energy bars that contain calcium. Check the label to see if calcium is listed.
  • Hot cocoa with milk instead of water
  • Broccoli dipped in a veggie dip made with plain yogurt
  • Cheese sticks
  • Almonds
  • Yogurt or pudding

Dinner:

  • Macaroni and cheese made with milk
  • Chowder–style soups
  • Prepare canned tomato soup with milk instead of water
  • Add tofu or edamame to stir fries or soups
  • Beans (legumes)
  • Lasagna or other pasta dishes with ricotta cheese
  • Thin–crust pizza with vegetables
  • Pudding made with milk or frozen yogurt for dessert

What if my daughter just can’t get enough calcium in her diet?

It’s best for your daughter to try to meet her calcium needs by having calcium–rich foods and drinks, but some teens find it hard to fit in 4 servings of high–calcium foods daily. If she doesn’t like dairy foods, calcium fortified juice or soymilk, she may need a calcium supplement. Calcium carbonate (for example, Viactiv® or a generic chewable) and calcium citrate (for example, Citracal®) are good choices.

When choosing a supplement for your daughter, keep the following things in mind:

  • Most calcium supplements have between 200 and 500 milligrams of calcium. Remember, her goal is 1,300 milligrams of per day.
  • If she has to take more than one supplement per day, it is best to take them at different times of the day because the body can only absorb about 500 milligrams of calcium at a time.
  • She shouldn’t count on getting all of her calcium from a multivitamin. Most basic multivitamin/mineral tablets have very little calcium in them.
  • Look for a calcium supplement that has vitamin D added. Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium.
  • Avoid “oyster shell” or “natural source” calcium supplements. These may have lead or aluminum in them and are not recommended.
  • Know that a dietitian or health care provider will be able to support her with recommendations on what supplement will best suit her needs.
Food: Serving: Milligrams of Calcium:
Dairy Products:
Yogurt, low-fat1 cup338-448
Ricotta cheese, part-skim1/2 cup337
Milk (skim)1 cup299
Fortified soy and rice milks1 cup301
Milk (1%)1 cup305
Milk (whole)1 cup276
Ricotta cheese, whole1/2 cup257
Swiss cheese1 ounce252
Mozzarella cheese, part skim1 ounce222
Cheddar cheese1 ounce201
Muenster cheese1 ounce203
American cheese1 ounce296
Frozen yogurt1/2 cup103
Ice cream1/2 cup84
Pudding4 ounce container54

Protein Foods
:
Canned sardines (with bones)3 ounces325
Soybeans, cooked1 cup261
Canned salmon (with bones)3 ounces181
Nasoya Tofu Plus®, firm3 ounces200
Kidney beans, canned1/2 cup44
White beans, cooked1/2 cup81
Crab, canned3 ounces77
Clams, canned and drained3 ounces55
Almonds1 oz (23 nuts)76
Sesame seeds1 tablespoon88
Vegetables:
Collard greens, cooked1/2 cup134
Spinach, cooked1/2 cup122
Kale, cooked1/2 cup47
Broccoli, cooked1/2 cup31
Fruits:
Calcium-fortified orange juice1 cup349
Rhubarb, cooked1/2 cup174
Dried figs1/3 cup80
Orange152
Cereals and Bars:
Total Raisin Bran® Cereal1/2 cup500
Cream of Wheat® Cereal1 cup303
Basic 4® Cereal1 cup250
Kix® Cereal1 1/4 cup171
Luna® Bar1 bar425