The Youth Voice: Why Milk Matters for Children and Teens
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
Good nutrition is important for good health and can help protect against many diseases later in life. However, one important nutrient many kids and teens don’t 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 is used in building bone mass and also helps to reduce the risk of bone fracture 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 your body removes more calcium than it replaces, your bones will 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 the highest during the childhood and teen years, because bones are growing fast then and calcium must be added into bones to make them strong. Most of the calcium that makes bones strong is added by the age of 17. By 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 loss begins, the less likely it is that bones will become fragile and fracture easily.
How Much Calcium Do Kids Need?
Calcium Recommended Each Day (in milligrams)
Note: One 8-ounce glass of milk has about 300 mg of calcium, so just a few glasses can go a long way towards getting the calcium needed each day.
How Do I Know How Much Calcium a Food Has?
Food labels can tell you how much calcium is in one serving of a food. Look at the % Daily Value next to the calcium number on the food label.
Try to eat and drink foods with 20% or more DV for calcium
For most adults, 100% DV=1,000 mg of calcium, but children ages 9-18 need extra calcium
How Much Calcium Do Kids Get?
National nutrition surveys show that only 19% of teen girls and 52% of teen boys get the recommended amounts of calcium. In fact, teenage girls only average about 740 mg of calcium per day, well below the amount needed for their normal growth and development.
Where Is The Calcium?
Low-fat and fat-free milk and dairy products, such as cheese and yogurt, are excellent sources of calcium. In addition to having lots of calcium, milk and dairy products provide other essential nutrients, all necessary for good bone health and development, including phosphorous, magnesium, and added vitamin D in milk.
Other sources of calcium include dark green, leafy vegetables, such as kale, and foods like broccoli, soybeans, and tofu processed with calcium, orange juice with calcium added, and other calcium-fortified foods.
What Kind of Milk is Best?
Fat-free (skim) and low-fat (1%) milk and dairy products are excellent choices because they make it easy to get enough calcium without adding a lot of extra fat and saturated fat to your diet.
Can Everyone Drink Milk?
Lactose, the sugar found in milk and dairy foods, can cause abdominal discomfort in some people. A person with lactose intolerance had trouble digesting lactose. Lactose intolerance is not common among infants and young children, and is more common among people of African-American, Hispanic, Asian, and American Indian and Alaskan Native descent.
For people with lactose intolerance, milk is often better digested when drunk in small amounts and when combines with other foods, such as cereal. In addition, many people can eat dairy foods such as cheeses or yogurt, which can cause fewer symptoms.
Some people, however, are allergic to milk and dairy products and should not eat them. For those people that cannot have any milk, calcium can come from non-dairy sources like dark green, leafy vegetables, broccoli, lime-treated tortillas, and tofu processed with calcium. Getting calcium from food is recommended, but calcium supplements can also be a way to add necessary calcium.
Solving the Calcium Crunch
Getting enough calcium is important for building strong bones and ensuring future health. Here are three things to help get enough calcium and keep bones and teeth strong.
Think of ways to incorporate milk and other calcium rich foods into meals and snacks.
Keep foods with calcium in the house and put them on the table during meals and snacks.
Keep drinking milk throughout your life, and be sure to eat and drink other foods with calcium. These foods should be an important part of the diet your whole life.
Ideas for High Calcium Meals and Snacks
Pour low-fat or fat-free milk over your breakfast cereal
Have a cup of yogurt
Drink a glass of calcium-fortified orange juice
Add low-fat milk instead of water to oatmeal and hot cereal
Add low-fat or fat-free milk instead of water to creamed soups, such as tomato
Add cheese to a sandwich or soft corn tortilla
Have a glass of milk instead of soda
Make mini-pizzas or macaroni and cheese
Try flavored milk like chocolate or strawberry
Have a frozen yogurt
Try some pudding made with low-fat milk
Make a “smoothie” with fruit, ice, and milk
Dip fruits and vegetables in yogurt
Make a salad with dark green, leafy vegetables, such as spinach
Serve broccoli or cooked, dry beans as a side dish
Top salads, soups an stews with low-fat shredded cheese
Add tofu made with calcium to stir fry and other dishes
Try rice pudding made with low-fat milk for dessert
For more information on milk and calcium, or to view and order free materials, check out the Milk Matters Campaign website at http://www.nichd.nih.gov/milkmatters.
To learn more about nutrition, diet recommendations, and food labels, look at these sites: