Toddlers, calcium and vitamin D
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Melissa Little

Pediatric and Antenatal Dietician. She is a spokesperson for the British Dietetics Association on TV and in print. Member of the parliamentary group for a Fit and Healthy Childhood at Westminster for the UK Government.
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Toddler / Toddler Nutrition

Toddlers, calcium and vitamin D

It is really important that toddlers eat adequate amounts of absorbable calcium as their bones and skeleton are going through growth spurts.
In Short
Dairy products are our main source of calcium that helps strengthen bones and teeth.

By the age of 20 to 25, human skeletons are no longer able to build additional bone mass - they only maintain what they already have.  Therefore, it is especially important throughout childhood to consume sufficient dairy products to build the bone stores needed later in life. This builds strength and helps protect against osteoporosis.

A large percentage of toddlers and children are not meeting their dairy intake needs. Did you also know that osteoporosis, a disease causing weak and brittle bones effecting almost half the elderly population, is completely preventable through exercise and adequate dairy consumption in youth? Unfortunately, most parents don’t know the quantity of dairy products their children need or just how important it is for their health.

Factors affecting bone mass

Peak bone mass is influenced by some factors that children can’t change e.g., gender and race and some that they can, e.g., nutrition and physical activity.

Gender

Bone mass tends to be higher in males than in females. Before puberty, both boys and girls develop bone mass at similar rates. During and after puberty, boys begin to accumulate greater bone mass than girls.

Ethnic group

In the USA, African American girls tend to achieve higher peak bone mass than Caucasian girls, and African American women are at lower risk for osteoporosis later in life. However, because all women are at risk for osteoporosis, all children need to build as much bone mass as possible through their youth.

Nutrition

Calcium is an essential nutrient for bone health, especially during childhood. A well-balanced diet including adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, zinc, and vitamin D (around 600 IU a day) is also important as they are all needed for optimal calcium absorption and bone growth. See tips on eating a calcium rich diet below.

Physical activity

Physical activity is important for building healthy bones. Astronauts in zero gravity lose bone density very quickly as their bones are not bearing any weight. Exercise is really beneficial in the weight-bearing areas of the skeleton such as the pelvis, and the arms of tennis players and weight lifters.

Why is dairy important to toddlers?

Dairy products are our main source of calcium, a nutrient that helps strengthen bones and teeth. Calcium deficiencies can lead to osteoporosis, a disease characterized by weak bones, which increases the risk of bone fractures later in life. However, calcium is most important when our bones are still growing.

Building your children’s “bone bank” account is a lot like saving for their education: The more they can put away when they’re young, the longer it should last as they get older.
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, National Institute of Health, USA.

By the age of 20 to 25, our bodies are no longer able to build additional bone mass, they only maintain what they already have. Therefore, it is especially important throughout childhood to consume sufficient dairy products to build the bone stores needed later in life.

How much calcium does a toddler need?

Current guidelines recommend that:

  • Girls and boys between 1 and 3 years consume around 700mg of calcium per day (the equivalent of approximately 3 portions of dairy).

A portion of dairy can be any of the following:

  • 200ml of milk.
  • 30g of cheese (about the size of a matchbox).
  • 1 small pot of yogurt.
  • 250ml of calcium-fortified soy milk.
What if my toddler is a vegan or can’t drink milk?

While the above dairy products are the primary sources of calcium you can also take in small amounts from other foods such as green vegetables, nuts, and fish. Many non-dairy milks can also contain added calcium – such as soy, rice and almond milk.

Top ten tips for increasing your toddler’s calcium intake

Here are some simple tips to help toddlers get adequate calcium.

  • Don’t drink soda – it drains calcium from your body. Toddlers shouldn’t be drinking soda in any case!
  • Make better breakfasts. Choose cereal, porridge or a fruit smoothie for an extra portion of milk in the mornings.
  • Become great at grating. Grate cheese on to casseroles, pasta or soups for an added calcium kick.
  • Serve up soup. Milk based soups and sauces are a great source of added dairy.
  • Go nutty! Almonds and brazil nuts are a good source of calcium, just remember to buy “natural” and stick to a handful.
  • Snack smarter. Yogurt and cottage cheese make great healthy snacks – add fresh fruit for even more nutrients.
  • Go green. Green leafy vegetables contain some calcium so serve up spinach or kale as a healthy side dish.
  • Pep up pasta. Add soft cheeses such as feta or ricotta to your child’s pasta dish to pep up the calcium and the taste.
  • Eat fish. Sardines in tomato sauce are an excellent source of calcium as well as a good source of healthy fat.
  • Try tofu. Tofu is a great source of calcium – try adding it your child’s stir-fry or blending it into a smoothie.
How much vitamin D should my toddler have?

Vitamin D is really important to help calcium absorb properly. Children over the age of 1 year need 600 IU a day. It’s hard to get it from the sun in colder climates like the UK – and harder for toddlers with dark skin, so a supplement is recommended.

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DISCLAIMER
This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.