Calcium requirements of children

The importance of eating a calcium-rich diet

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in our body and 99 percent of that amount is stored in bones, making up 1.2kgs of the total body weight. The remaining one percent is present in body fluids, and is responsible for a number of functions including muscle contraction, transmission of nerve impulses, blood clotting, regulating blood pressure and proper functioning of bodily enzymes.

Calcium is one nutrient that children cannot afford to miss.

Why do children need calcium?

As children grow, calcium contributes to the overall development of their skeletal system. The skeleton also serves as reservoir that ensures the availability of calcium for other bodily functions in case the mineral is in short supply. Therefore, adequate accumulation of calcium is essential for maintaining the structural strength of the skeleton. A low intake can make the bone brittle and weak, thus increasing the risk of osteoporosis.

Importance of vitamin D

Vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium in bones. Children are at a high risk of developing a bone disorder – rickets - if their daily diet does not supply the body with these nutrients. Therefore, along with a calcium-rich diet, ensure that your child gets enough exposure to sunlight, the main source of vitamin D.

Besides the calcium-rich dairy foods like milk, curd, cheese and paneer, many other food sources can also help meet the daily requirements. These include fish with bones, rajma, chickpeas, whole green moong, finger millet (Ragi), nuts like almonds, peanuts, seeds like raajgira (amaranthus), sesame seeds, watercress seeds, leafy green vegetables like amaranthus leaves, radish leaves, methi, moringa leaves and vegetables like broccolli and french beans.

According to ICMR, Indian children aged between one to nine need around 600mg of calcium a day. This is easily achievable as 100ml of buffalo milk has about 210mg of calcium and cow's milk has about 120mg.

Foods with rich-calcium content:

A child needs, at least 2-3 glasses of dairy products (milk, curd) a day. In addition, dishes like methi paratha, ragi roti, paneer paratha, peanut laddoo, sesame seeds chikki, rajgeera chikki and trail mixes can help meet daily calcium requirements.

For younger children, porridge made out of ragi flour and sattu mix are ideal calcium rich sources. For the kids, who are fussy about milk, serving them badam milk and milk shakes with nuts and seeds can do the trick. However, if your child is lactose intolerant, it is better to meet with a child nutritionist, who can help create an eating plan that provides good sources of calcium.