In a departure from our usual spice series, we're talking kids' nutrition (with spiced recipes, naturally!). This week and next, it's all about calcium. Calcium is an ultra-important and ultra-confusing topic in nutrition, especially when it comes to our toddlers and kids! How much calcium do kids really need? Is dairy the best source? Questions abound and the conflicting evidence and information are dizzying. We went digging through the data - here is our attempt to make sense of it all.
Calcium is a crucial mineral for our bodies. As most of us know, calcium is important for the development of bones and teeth where 99% of it is stored. Somewhat under-appreciated functions of calcium include blood clotting, activation of nerve impulses and muscle contractions, including the beating of our hearts! The first 30 years of life are most crucial for depositing adequate calcium in bones to prevent debilitating fractures in later years.
HOW MUCH CALCIUM?
Western dietary guidelines recommend 500 - 800 mg, 1000 mg and 1200 mg of calcium per day for kids, adults and older adults respectively. Many experts now agree that these numbers are inflated and aggressive. Here's why:
1) In epidemiological studies, countries like India, Japan and Peru, where average calcium intake is much less than in the West - about 300 mg a day - bone fracture incidence is rather low. This has been termed the "calcium paradox"!
2) In the majority of studies conducted on dairy or calcium intake and bone health, researchers have found no benefit of increased dairy or calcium supplementation on fracture risk above 400 mg / day for adults. In fact, calcium supplements without Vitamin D increase the risk for heart disease and fractures and should be avoided.
Factoring in these data, the UK has now lowered its recommended calcium intake to 700 mg / day for adults aged 19 - 50.
1) Adequate calcium intake in the first 30 years and throughout life is essential for bone health and other pivotal functions
2) The exact amount of calcium necessary for optimal bone and general health is unclear but the current recommendations of 800 mg / day for kids and 1000 mg / day for adults are likely inflated.
3) Calcium supplements without vitamin D can be harmful and are best avoided.
In Part II of our Calcium series next week, we'll get into the dairy debate and discuss why dairy should not be the only source of calcium for you and your kids. Until then, here are 3 of our favorite non-dairy sources of calcium for kids <nomnom>
1) Edamame / Soy Beans
Essential for strong
bones and teeth
Important for blood
clotting, nerve cell
signaling and heart
Current guidelines for intake in the West likely inflated
(Banana Tahini Honey
Toddler, Kids, Adults
Rich in calcium (1 cup is 100 mg) and other goodies like protein, fiber, vitamins A and C and plant-based iron, edamame are a great tool to get more nutrition and calcium into your kids' diets. I boil mine for 4-6 minutes, drain and season with sea salt, a pinch of coriander powder and lime juice. Yum. You can also add them to soups and pasta for a nutrition boost.
2) Oranges (yes oranges!)
I knew that orange juice was fortified with calcium these days but was surprised to learn that good ol' all natural oranges have calcium! Two small oranges, a regular snack for my tot, have about 80 mg of calcium or 10% of the rather inflated 800 mg target per day. They also come packed with vitamin C and fiber. What's not to love about that?!
3) Tahini - the new Peanut Butter!
White sesame paste or tahini, commonly used in hummus, is a delicious, nutritious, creamy source of non-dairy based calcium. 1 tablespoon provides about 80 mg of calcium not to mention B vitamins, good fat, protein and other nutrients. We like it in our turmeric hummus of course but also simply slathered on sliced bananas with a drizzle of honey or date syrup and cinnamon.