I’ve always heard that calcium is one of the building blocks of the body. Where is my child going to get calcium without dairy products?

  • Posted by Dr. Jay Gordon

While calcium certainly is an essential building block for teeth and bones in a growing body, there is some dispute among medical professionals as to how much calcium we really need. The need for calcium is dependent on the increasing amount of protein a child takes in during the different growth phases. The Recommended Daily Allowance of calcium for an infant is 400 mg. a day for the first six months of life. This should be increased to 600 mg. a day for months six through 12. This need grows to 800 mg. for ages one through ten, and then jumps to 1200 mg. a day for ages ten through 18.

Dairy products have long been regarded as the easiest and the best source of calcium. However, the fats, allergic potential, and pesticide contaminants in milk make it an inappropriate source of calcium, in my opinion. I would never recommend that children drink four glasses of milk or eat yogurt every day. The thing you must understand is that there are other sources of calcium. They may be less convenient than opening the carton, but they are equally effective in supplying this needed mineral. Children who can’t digest milk and dairy products grow well without them.

Broccoli, for instance, is an excellent source of calcium. It contains about the same amount as milk, ounce for ounce. Lightly steam and chill the flowerets so they’re still a little crisp, and you’ll have an excellent finger food that children will eat. You can even provide a little dish of fat-free salad dressing or yogurt that they can use for dipping. I recommend seven ½ cup servings a day of fruits and vegetables, balancing your choices from the two types of food. These seven servings will provide enough fiber, beta carotene, and vitamin C for any child.

Most of the dark green leafy vegetables provide calcium. The oxalic acid in spinach, however, actually retards the absorption of calcium. Spinach, of course, makes up for this minor deficiency by being an excellent source of iron.

If you have children who like kale, arugula, and dandelion greens, you’ll have no trouble meeting their calcium requirements. Most of my young patients find those tastes too strong. You might try finely chopping the greens and adding them to a vegetable soup.

Sesame seeds are a good source of calcium, although they are high in fat. You can add sesame seeds to mashed potatoes or sprinkle them on salads. Sesame butter is available in health food stores. It can be used in place of peanut butter, which is very high in fat, sodium, and sugar when bought commercially. If your child demands peanut butter, use it only occasionally. Buy the natural variety which has no additives. Before using, allow the oil to flow to the top, and then pour it off before using the peanut butter.

As a final resort, especially if your child is going through a “picky eater stage”, you can buy a liquid or chewable calcium supplement. If your child won’t eat enough food during the day to satisfy you and his pediatrician that he’s getting enough calcium, you can give supplements. Once a child is about three years old, you can give him 500 mg of chewable calcium. Balance this with about the same amount of magnesium. I suggest you put it into a blender drink, like a fruit smoothie, or into applesauce or mashed potatoes. That way you can be sure he’s getting the amount he needs every day. If your child gets too much calcium on any particular day because of erratic eating habits, he will excrete the excess calcium.