Dairy for Kids - Friend or Foe??!

Welcome to Part II in our CALCIUM series. If you're so over reading, watch our video above or read on :)

Last week we argued that the current recommendations for 1000 mg a day of calcium for adults and 800 mg a day for kids are probably inflated, as per the data. This week, we're talking DAIRY. 

Particularly in the West, dairy and calcium are almost synonymous. It's impossible to even mention calcium without mentioning dairy and it's impossible to talk about kids without talking about dairy so let's get into dairy!

When it comes to the dairy debate, there are essentially 3 groups. 
1) The Dairy Pushers
2) The Dairy Haters
3) The Mindful Moderate Dairy Embracers

Super bonus points for guessing which camp we belong to! 

1) The Dairy Pushers
We all know them. Got Milk?! If not, you're in trouble. Osteoporosis, brittle bones, fractures, ruin. Are they onto something?

It is absolutely true that per serving size, dairy contains the highest amount of absorbable calcium than any other food group, making it the most efficient way, particularly for kids, to meet their calcium needs. It also comes with vitamin D, an important co-factor for the absorption and retention of calcium as well as protein, both very important for growing kids. 

This doesn't mean, however, that you must have dairy to meet your calcium needs. You and your kids can skip dairy if you can't tolerate it or are opposed but you have to be extra mindful about non-dairy sources of calcium because per serving size, dairy is more calcium rich. One cup of milk and 3 cups of chopped kale have the same amount of calcium, about 300 mg. Which one is your kid more likely to consume in one sitting? 

Where I disagree with the milk obsessed lot is in the three glasses a day recommendation, which stems from the 800 - 1000 mg a day goal. We discussed in our last post why this is unnecessarily aggressive. So no, your kids don't need to have 3 glasses of milk a day to meet their calcium needs. And as we'll discuss below, too much dairy can actually be bad thing. 

2) The Dairy Haters
Here are the arguments you've most likely heard from the anti-dairy camp:

(a) Dairy is high in saturated fat and increases risk for heart disease
This is true. Full fat dairy is high in saturated fat and too much can increase your risk for heart disease. 

(b) Dairy is bad because so many folks are lactose intolerant
It's true that many people are lactose intolerant and for them milk is not a good option. Some people can tolerate yoghurt better than milk because of live cultures which make it more easily digestible. For those that cannot have any dairy, non-dairy sources of calcium do exist but mindfulness is key because per serving size, it's hard to beat dairy when it comes to calcium. 

(c) Dairy increases cancer risk
There is evidence that too much dairy can increase ones risk for certain cancers. Particularly compelling evidence exists for prostrate cancer risk. Men who consumed more than 2 servings of dairy a day had a 34% increased risk of prostrate cancer. There is some evidence for an increased risk of ovarian cancer with too much dairy. To complicate the matter, there is also evidence that some dairy protects against colon cancer. So the picture is not straightforward! But one can conclude that too much dairy comes with some cancer risk. 

(d) Dairy is acidic and leaches calcium from bones
The argument is that when dairy, being a protein, is processed in the body, it lowers the pH of the blood into the acidic zone and to neutralize this, the body has to borrow calcium from the bones. So dairy is touted by some to be calcium robbing and bad for bones. There is no scientific evidence for this claim. Diet extremely high in protein - north of 90g a day of protein - have been shown to negatively impact bone health. But normal levels of protein seem to be good for bones. 

(e) Dairy is inflammatory
Anecdotally, some people do seem to find dairy irritating to the digestive tract or to other inflammatory conditions like psoriasis and eczema. But as far as the science goes, there is no compelling evidence yet that dairy is inflammatory - dairy did not increase inflammatory markers in studies. Perhaps the effects are too subtle to measure in the short term so the jury is out on this one. 

(f) Too much dairy consumption can cause iron deficiency, particularly in kids
Too much milk consumption has been shown to lead to iron deficiency in some kids. Excess dairy crowds out other foods that are iron and nutrient rich. Also, dairy directly inhibits the absorption of non-heme iron in the body. There appears to be a sweet spot of about 2 glasses or 16oz of milk a day to meet calcium and vitamin D needs without compromising iron. If your kid eats a varied diet of plenty of heme-based iron rich foods (red meat for instance), increased milk consumption could be OK. But for most kids, too much milk results in other nutrients being compromised, particularly iron, not to mention the longer term risks discussed above. 


1) Moderate dairy, if tolerated, is the way to go for kids
Try and adhere to that sweet spot of about 16 oz of dairy a day (toddlers and pre-schoolers) to allow for enough calcium and vitamin D without crowding out other nutrients like iron and reducing longer term risks like heart disease and cancer. If your kid can't get to that level, don't fret. We'll get into non-dairy sources of calcium as part of a low dairy meal plan next week. More importantly, you may need to watch for a vitamin D deficiency with insufficient dairy and discuss supplementation with your pediatrician. 

2) Get creative with dairy
Milk is not the only option when it comes to dairy. Embrace probiotic-rich options like yoghurt which contain more calcium per serving size than milk and are versatile and fun. Try our Mango Lassi Popsicles for a delicious calcium rich snack that any milk-loathing toddler will love. 

3) Embrace non-dairy sources of calcium
Too much dairy brings with it long term risks as discussed above. Non-dairy sources of calcium like dark leafy green veggies have vitamin K which is super helpful when it comes to the absorption of dairy as well as other nutrients and anti-oxidants. Mix it up with dairy and non-dairy sources of calcium in your kids' and your diet! 

We leave you with a delicious, non-dairy calcium-rich breakfast, ready in seconds. Next week, we'll share Moderate Dairy and a Low Dairy Calcium-Rich Meal Plans with more recipes!

Until then,
Love & Spice. 



Highest amount of absorbable calcium per serving size 

Packed with vitamin D and protein, hence great to include in kids' diets

Too much comes with risks like heart disease and cancer in the long run

Too much milk consumption in kids can crowd out other nutrients, particularly iron

Best approach is moderation (about 2 cups a day), embracing non-milk based dairy like yoghurt and kefir and including non-dairy sources of calcium in the diet that are brimming with other fabulous nutrients




Spiced Coconut Chia Seed Pudding
12 months+, Toddlers, Kids, Adults

Chia means 'strength' and chia seeds are the new superfood for good reason. They are high in calcium - 2 tablespoons have 180 mg of calcium, the same as 4oz of milk! They also have plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, quality protein, fiber and anti-oxidants. They are a great addition to smoothies, salads, breakfast bars, puddings. Here, they marry beautifully with coconut milk which is great for you in moderation and fiber, protein and calcium-rich rolled oats for a decadent high calcium pudding that takes seconds to prepare and will put any other power breakfast to shame.

1-2 toddler servings (240 mg of calcium total)

1 cup coconut milk
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1/4 cup rolled oats
1 tablespoon honey
Pinch cinnamon, about 1/8 teaspoon
2 cardamom pods smashed

Mix all ingredients together and give them a good loving stir. Refrigerate overnight and voila, breakfast is ready. You can stir in fruit of choice (berries or mangoes work nicely here) and add some more coconut milk if your kids like a more liquid pudding. 

How much CALCIUM do your kids really need???!

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. 

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
Cinnamon Slices)

               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.