You’ve probably heard from your pediatric dentist that calcium is very important for the health of your child’s teeth. Calcium promotes strong, healthy bone growth (including teeth!). Most popular sources of calcium for kids are dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt. However, if your child is lactose intolerant or isn’t a huge fan of dairy, there are still plenty of ways for them to get enough calcium in their diets! Read on to learn more about some kid-friendly sources of calcium.
First of all, we should note that if you or your child depend on non-dairy sources for calcium, be sure to pair the calcium-rich foods with vitamin D, which helps the body fully absorb non-dairy calcium. Some foods (like sardines!) contain both calcium and vitamin D, but this is not always the case so you may need to do a little extra meal planning.
The amount of calcium you need each day varies depending on your age and gender. According to the Institute of Medicine, adults require 1,000 milligrams of calcium each day; however, men older than 70 and women older than 50 need 1,200 milligrams per day. Women over age 50 and men older than 70 generally have a higher risk for osteoporosis and consume less than desirable intakes of calcium, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements. Children ages 9 to 18 require 1,300 milligrams of calcium, children ages 4 to 8 need 1,000 milligrams and children ages 1 to 3 require 700 milligrams of calcium each day.
Calcium in Milk
Most varieties of cow’s milk contain between 275 and 300 milligrams of calcium per cup, or about 30 percent of your daily value. Reducing fat content in milk slightly increases its calcium content. This is because the fat in milk doesn’t contain calcium, according to KidsHealth. One cup of whole milk contains 276 milligrams of calcium, while 1 cup of 2-percent or fat-free milk contains 293 milligrams or 299 milligrams of calcium per cup, respectively. Although the fat content in milk only slightly affects its calcium content, choosing low-fat or fat-free milk instead of whole milk can significantly reduce your daily calorie intake for healthy weight management.
Other Sources of Calcium
Milk isn’t the only good source of calcium. Other foods with similar calcium contents include buttermilk, yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese, calcium-fortified juices, calcium-fortified soy milk or almond milk, tofu and calcium-fortified ready-to-eat cereals. About 43 percent of Americans take dietary supplements containing calcium, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements.
It’s best to obtain at least some of your calcium from foods, because most high-calcium foods are also high in protein. A study published in a 2004 edition of “Obesity Research” found that increasing dietary calcium accelerated weight loss and fat loss during periods of calorie restriction; weight and fat losses were greatest in subjects who consumed a diet high in dairy foods compared with subjects who consumed a standard diet plus calcium supplements.
Although it’s important to consume enough calcium each day, too much calcium can lead to health problems such as constipation, kidney stones and interference with zinc and iron absorption. To avoid possible health complications from excessive calcium, don’t exceed tolerable upper intake levels of 2,000 milligrams for adults older than 50; 2,500 milligrams for children ages 1 to 8, adults ages 19 to 50, pregnant women and breastfeeding women; and 3,000 milligrams of calcium each day for children ages 9 to 18.
Lactose Intolerance Smoothies
Lactose intolerance, or the inability to digest lactose, is one of the most common food intolerances and is caused by a deficiency in the enzyme lactase. Without lactase, undigested lactose present in your digestive tract can cause bloating, abdominal cramps, gas and diarrhea within a couple of hours of consuming lactose-containing foods. Many dairy products, such as milk, yogurts and fresh cheese and foods and beverages prepared with these foods, contain lactose, but aged cheese, butter or cream contain very little. Even if you are lactose intolerant, you can make delicious and healthy smoothies with lactose-free ingredients.
Most supermarkets offer lactose-free milk, which constitutes a good, albeit slightly more expensive, option for people with lactose intolerance that miss the taste of milk or want to use it to prepare lactose-free meals and beverages. The nutritional value of lactose-free milk is the same as that of regular milk. The only difference is that the enzyme lactase is added to predigest the lactose for you. Lactose-free milk can replace regular cow’s milk in your smoothie recipes. Add your favorite fruits, blend, and you’ll have a lactose-free smoothie ready for you.
Although yogurt still contains some lactose, it contains a lot less compared to regular cow’s milk. Yogurt is made using specific strains of bacteria to ferment the milk and these bacteria feed themselves on lactose. Most people with lactose intolerance can tolerate yogurt. Experiment with a small amount to assess your tolerance. If you can’t tolerate commercially-prepared yogurt, you can make your own yogurt and let it ferment longer — up to 24 hours — to allow enough time for the bacteria to consume all the lactose and make it almost completely lactose-free. Use yogurt and fruits to make homemade lactose-free smoothies.
If you are severely lactose intolerant or prefer to completely avoid dairy products, coconut milk is an option. Keep cans of coconut milk handy to prepare lactose-free smoothies. If you have a sensitive digestive tract, though, be aware that some brands of canned coconut milk contain guar gum or other stabilizers and emulsifiers that can bother some people and cause symptoms similar to those of lactose intolerance. In such a case, choose a brand that only contains water and coconut in the ingredient list. Coconut milk is richer, creamier and higher in fat than regular cow’s milk and you can thin it out with water when making your lactose-free smoothie to obtain the desired consistency.
In addition to being completely free of lactose, almond milk can add a nutty flavor to your smoothies. Use it to replace regular cow’s milk in your favorite recipes to make them lactose-free. Choose an unflavored and unsweetened version to keep your sugar intake low. Read the ingredient list to avoid any ingredients that can be hard to tolerate, such as gums and thickeners, for people prone to gastrointestinal problems. Soymilk, rice milk and other alternative dairy-free milk options can also be used safely in your lactose-free smoothies.
How Much Milk to Drink a Day for Strong Bones for Adults
If you’re an adult, you don’t need to drink any milk to keep your bones strong. While you do need calcium, vitamin D and other minerals to help maintain bone density and prevent osteoporosis, you can meet these needs with other foods or dietary supplements. If you like milk, however, several glasses a day can meet your needs.
Meeting Calcium Needs with Milk
About 99 percent of your body’s calcium resides in your bones and teeth. Calcium gives bones density and strength. Milk serves as an excellent source of calcium, with around 300 milligrams per 8-ounce glass. To meet dietary calcium requirements, women need 1,000 milligrams per day between ages 19 and 50 and 1,200 milligrams after age 51, according to the federal Office of Dietary Supplements. Drinking three to four glasses of milk would meet your calcium needs. For men, 1,000 milligrams between age 19 and 70 and 1,200 milligrams thereafter provides the calcium needed.
Getting Enough Vitamin D in Milk
While calcium makes your bones strong, it takes an adequate amount of vitamin D for your body to absorb it. If you don’t get enough vitamin D, you can eat large amounts of calcium and still lose bone density. Most commercially-produced milk in the United States is fortified with vitamin D, to ensure that you will absorb the calcium you get from milk. An 8-ounce serving of milk supplies around 30 percent of your daily vitamin D needs, or between 115 and 124 milligrams of vitamin D. Three glasses of milk per day would meet your vitamin D needs.
Alternative Food Choices
If you don’t like milk or can’t drink it due to lactose intolerance or allergy, you can choose from a variety of foods — dairy and nondairy — to help meet your nutritional needs and keep your bones strong. Yogurt contains more calcium per serving than milk but typically isn’t fortified with vitamin D. Different types of cheese, such as cheddar and mozzarella, also equal milk in calcium content. Fish, including salmon or sardines canned with bones, can help meet both your calcium and vitamin D needs without milk. If you follow a vegan diet and don’t consume dairy, tofu, fortified cereals and vegetables such as kale, turnip greens and bok choy can help you meet you calcium needs. Fortified cereals often contain both calcium and vitamin D.
In some cases, drinking too much milk might be harmful. A Harvard School of Public Health study, reported in the October 2001 issue of “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,” examined evidence suggesting that men who consumed more than 2.5 servings of dairy products per day had an increased risk of developing prostate cancer compared to men who consumed less than a half-serving of dairy per day. Men with the higher intake had a 32 percent higher risk of developing prostate cancer. A meta-analysis of available studies conducted by Tufts University and published in the December 2005 issue of the “Journal of the National Cancer Institute” reported similar findings, although the risk reported was small. Talk to your doctor about calcium intake if you’re a male at risk for prostate cancer or if you’ve had prostate cancer.