Many people I talk to assume that our bodies can produce calcium if it’s needed, and that there’s extra calcium stored somewhere. It’s partly true, our bodies do store calcium, but it’s in our bones, where we need it so we can stand up straight and tall.
The fact is, our bodies need calcium every day not only for strong healthy bones, but also so that our hearts, muscles and nerves can work correctly to keep us going.
The human body doesn’t produce its own calcium, which is why getting adequate amounts of calcium rich food, such as milk, yogurt and cheese every day is so important.
Here are the five surprising family members who need more calcium rich dairy every day: Kids, Teens, Moms, Dads and Grandparents
1 serving of calcium rich food = 1 cup of milk or yogurt or 1 ounce of cheese
You may be surprised to learn that most children over the age of 8 are not getting the recommended amount of milk and dairy in their diets to meet the nutritional needs for their growing bones and muscles.(1)
I understand this because there are many other sweetened beverage choices available that are often substituted. However, when girls as young as 5 were having sweetened beverages or fruit juice instead of milk, these habits not only continued, but led to higher body fat in their teens.(2)
Daily Requirement of Calcium
Ages 1 – 3: 700 mg of calcium = 2 servings of dairy
Ages 4 – 8: 1,000 mg of calcium = 2-3 servings of dairy
Ages 9 – 13: 1,300 mg of calcium = 3 servings of dairy
As parents, we can help our kids get the recommended daily requirement by:
Having a glass of milk at dinner with our kids
Providing string cheese, drinkable yogurts and cottage cheese with fruit as snacks
Making broccoli, a vegetable with calcium in it, more appealing by offering a yogurt based or cheese dipping sauce
Thank goodness for pizza, with all the Mozzarella cheese on it, or many teens wouldn’t get any calcium rich foods in their diets at all. The truth is, about 1 in 5 high schoolers drink no milk at all, while nearly one half only have 1-2 glasses in a week! ( 1 )
This is at a time when we are building our peak bone mass. Teens need three servings of calcium rich food to get the 1,300 mg of daily calcium that’s recommended for strong healthy bones.
To keep energy levels high, encourage your teen to have milk with cereal or yogurt with granola in the morning. The protein, calcium and nine other essential nutrients mean their energy levels will stay high and help them concentrate. If they’re always running late, toss them a drinkable yogurt and a few string cheeses for excellent nutrition on the go and between classes.
Since every teen I’ve ever met can’t say no to cookies or brownies, have one ready with a big glass of milk for an after school pick me up that will help them power through homework or any after school activities.
If your teen is worried about weight gain, low and non fat or fat free milk and yogurt are some of the healthiest foods they can have. In fact, milk comes in at ½ of the calories of sweetened drinks and fruit juices. Check out this chart:
3. Pregnant and Breastfeeding Moms
This is a time when a woman’s body needs several servings of calcium rich food not only for her changing body, but for her baby’s too. The recommendation from The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) is that pregnant and breastfeeding women over age 19 get 1,000 mg each day = 3-4 servings/day of dairy.(3)
If a woman isn’t getting adequate calcium in her diet, her body will start pulling calcium out of her bones, which decreases their mass and their strength. This can be reversed after the baby is born, but can take a few months.
Tips for Increasing Calcium:
Pregnancy: Have a serving of calcium rich food such as milk, yogurt or cheese with each meal and to treat yourself with a little ice cream once in a while. Pickles are optional. 🙂
Breastfeeding: Try to have a glass of milk or drinkable yogurt every time you nurse your baby. Keep cheese slices and fruit on a plate near where you sit to breastfeed so that you can snack every time the baby eats.
I know a lot of Dads who are hitting the gym, working out and weight lifting. They might also be looking for alternatives to the traditional milk that they grew up with, thinking that all milks are essentially the same. Unfortunately, a lot of other “milk” drinks have a lot of extra calories, added sugars and salts to make them more palatable. And, ounce for ounce, none of the others provide as much protein for muscle strength.
5. Grandmothers and Grandfathers
You may have noticed that your grandparents aren’t quite as tall as they used to be, that’s because after 50, with aging, we tend to lose some of our bone mineral density, leading to loss of height and an increased risk of a broken hip or other broken bones.
Bone loss is known as osteoporosis, which affects over 300 million people worldwide and 54 million people in the US. Osteoporosis, a term for decreased bone density, increases the risk for a serious fracture in the hip or in the spine. About half of women and 1 in 4 men will experience a fracture related to bone loss in later years.(4)
Making sure everyone in the family has plenty of calcium rich dairy is especially important for grandparents, most of who grew up drinking a lot of milk. They also need Vitamin D and weight bearing exercise, such as walking or gardening, to keep their bones as strong and healthy as possible. Because appetites might be smaller, here’s some tips to help them get the recommended 1,000 mg of calcium each day, which is 3 servings:
Offer ½ servings of cottage cheese, puddings and creamed soups more frequently
Toss some shredded Cheddar, Monterey Jack or Mozzarella cheese on soups or salads
Use milk (regular or lactose free) in coffee and cocoa
Offer non-fat Greek yogurt with granola and fruit in a parfait for breakfast or dessert
I hope these tips help everyone in the family get plenty of calcium rich dairy foods for healthy nutrition. For more information you can visit RealCaliforniaMilk.com.
Disclosure: I am working with the California Milk Advisory Board to bring more awareness of the benefits of calcium rich dairy for health.
- Serota, Jo Ann, Milk Matters, ReadySetGrowMag.com, Fall 2014, Winter 2015. 2. MMWR, June 2012.
- Fiorito, LM et al. Beverage intake of girls at age 5 y predicts adiposity and weight status in childhood and adolescence. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009.
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. (embed link here: http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/Bone/Bone_Health/Pregnancy/default.asp )
- USDA ChooseMyPlate (insert link here: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/dairy )
- National Osteoporosis Foundation (insert link here: :https://www.nof.org/prevention/general-facts/ )