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Eunice Kennedy Shriver
National Institute of Child Health & Human Development
Meeting calcium needs

Children and teens have many options for meeting their calcium needs.

Why milk and not other foods for increasing calcium consumption?

a doctor smilingAlthough calcium is found in a variety of foods, the 1994 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Consensus Development Conference Statement on Optimal Calcium Intake designated dairy products as the preferred source of calcium because of their high calcium content.

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans also recommends milk and milk products as sources of dietary calcium based on studies that show a positive relationship between intake of milk and milk products and bone mineral content or bone mineral density at one or more skeletal sites.

The NICHD has selected low-fat or fat-free milk as an excellent source of calcium because it has high calcium content without added fat, and because the calcium is easily absorbed by the body. Low-fat and fat-free milk products are also good sources of calcium.

Other foods, including dark green, leafy vegetables such as kale, are also healthy dietary sources of calcium. But, it takes 11 to 14 servings of kale to get the same amount of calcium in 3 or 4 8-ounce glasses of milk.

In addition to calcium, milk provides other essential nutrients that are important for optimal bone health and development, including:

  • Vitamins D, A, and B12
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorous
  • Riboflavin
  • Protein

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How does bioavailability affect calcium absorption?

Bioavailability, the degree to which the intestinal system absorbs calcium, depends on the overall level of calcium in a food and the type of food being consumed. Calcium in foods such as milk and milk products is highly bioavailable.

According to the National Academy of Sciences' 1997 report on Dietary Reference Intakes, the body absorbs about one-tenth as much calcium from spinach as it does from milk. High bioavailability is one of the reasons that the NICHD describes milk and milk products as excellent dietary sources of calcium.

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What kind of milk is best for children?

Children and teenagers should have low-fat or fat-free milk and milk products. Because these items contain little or no fat, it's easy to get enough calcium without adding extra fat to the diet.

Most types of milk have approximately 300 mg of calcium per 8 fluid ounces (1 cup) - about 25 percent of the calcium that children and teenagers need every day.

Low-fat or fat-free milk is best for tweens and teens.
Whole MilkundefinedFat-free Milk
1 glass of whole milk contains 8 grams of fat1 glass of low-fat milk contains 2.5 grams of fat1 glass of fat-free milk contains 0 grams of fat
Children one to two years old should drink whole milk. After age two, low-fat or fat-free milk should become their regular drink.
(Source: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005)

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How much calcium do kids need?

Tweens and teens can get most of their daily calcium from:

  • 3 cups of low-fat or fat-free milk (900 mg of calcium), AND
  • Additional servings of calcium-rich foods to get the 1,300 mg of calcium necessary to build strong bones for life.
Calcium Needs by Age:
1 glass of milk
= 300 mg
Birth - 6 Months
210 mg of milk
210 mg
6 to 12 Months
270 mg
1 to 3 Years
500 mg of milk
500 mg
4 to 8 Years
800 mg of milk
800 mg
9 to 18 Years
1,300 mg of milk
1,300 mg
Source: DRI for Calcium, NAS 1997

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Are there any special calcium recommendations for pregnant or lactating teens?

Increasing dietary calcium does not prevent the loss of calcium that occurs during lactation, and the calcium lost seems to be regained after weaning. Therefore, the Dietary Reference Intakes do not recommend increasing calcium intake for lactating adolescents above normal levels for their age group.

However, the 1994 NIH Consensus Statement on Optimal Calcium Intake recommends that lactating teenagers and young adults increase their calcium intake to up to 1,500 mg per day.

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