Nutrition for Kids: What does Calcium do?

When it comes to children, a healthy and balanced diet is one of the most important things to promote the greatest possible growth and development. We know that as parents you naturally want what is best for your little ones. With so much information out there it can be really difficult to know exactly what certain vitamins and minerals do for kids. Therefore, we’ve put together our Nutrition for Kids series to help give you all the information you will need to make the best possible choices in your food shop.
Calcium - there is more of this present in the human body than any other mineral. We’ve seen adverts on TV that say it’s really important for a child’s development - but what is it, what does it actually do and how can I be sure that my children are getting enough? Read on to find out!

What is it?
Calcium is a mineral found in a large variety of foods and it is essential for many living organisms. Approximately 99% of the body’s calcium is stored in teeth and bones. Every day we lose calcium through sweat, hair, skin, nails and when we go to the toilet. As our body cannot produce its own calcium to make up for what we lose it is important to meet your daily intake, which is achieved through maintaining a healthy and balanced diet with sufficient calcium-rich foods.

What does it do?
The majority of the calcium we consume is used by our bodies to help maintain strong and healthy bones and teeth. It also helps our muscles to contract. Due to the nature of bone growth and muscle development in young people, it is really important that children get enough. Calcium is also required by our nervous system, helping our nerves send and receive signals, and helps to allow our blood to clot.

What happens if you don’t get enough?

When we don’t eat enough calcium our bodies compensate by taking the missing minerals from our bones. Because of this, calcium deficiencies are a major factor in the development of osteoporosis. Individuals with osteoporosis have a brittle bone structure compared to other people, leaving them prone to fractures and breaks. Making sure that your child is getting enough calcium means they can go into adult life with the strongest possible bone structure.

How much do my Children need?
As a general rule, a glass of milk contains about 125mg of calcium. Recommended calcium intake varies by age. The current recommended daily intake is listed below:

Age                 Amount (mg per day)
0-6 months                 200
7-12 months               260
1-3 years                     700
4-8 years                     1000
9-18 years                   1300
19-50 years                 1000
51-70 years (male)      1000
51-70 years (female)   1200
71+ years                    1200   

What are the best sources?
Most of us know that calcium can be found in dairy products such and milk, yoghurt and cheese, but there are a rich variety of foods that also contain the mineral. These include:
- Watercress - 41mg (1 cup)
- Soya beans - 277mg raw, 102mg boiled (100g)
- Tofu - 350mg (100g)
- Low-fat Mozzarella - 731mg (100g)
- Broccoli - 47mg (100g)
- Sardines - 92mg (2 sardines)

This is by no means an exhaustive list - if you do a little research you’ll soon find that ensuring your children reach their recommended calcium intake is a doddle!

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