Is your teenager getting enough calcium? Find out how you can help your teen build strong bones.

Why should you focus on your teen’s calcium intake?

You would probably know that calcium is a vital mineral that plays a crucial role in strengthening the bones. Apart from building strong bones and teeth, calcium is also necessary for several other primary tasks in your body like – proper functioning of nerves and muscles, clotting of blood and more.

Our bones develop quickly especially during puberty, between the age of 11 – 16. This is when your body requires the most calcium as it is building up calcium reserves to be used in the future. The calcium you intake during pre-puberty and puberty will ensure that your bones remain strong and healthy, in your later years.

Nearly 50% of the body’s bone development happens during the teen years.

As a parent, it’s essential to ensure that your teenagers get adequate calcium during these prime growing years. If your body doesn’t have sufficient calcium stored during these years, it could lead to low bone density, brittle bones, stress fractures, osteoporosis (a bone disease that occurs when the body loses too much bone) and other complications later in life. Unfortunately, a majority of teen girls and boys fail to receive adequate amounts of calcium during these growing years.

How much calcium do teenagers need?

Nutrition guidelines recommend that children (both boys and girls) from the age of 9 to 18 require 1300 mg of calcium per day. This equals 4 servings of calcium in a day. A single serving of calcium contains about 300 mg and this is equal to drinking a glass of milk (240 ml).

What are some recommended dietary sources of calcium?

Milk and dairy products are the best foods to ensure that your teenager gets his/her recommended dietary allowance of calcium in a day. Teenagers need to consume 4 to 5 servings of dairy in a day.

A single serving of dairy can be found in any of the following:

- A glass of milk (200 ml)

- A cheese cube about the size of a matchbox (30 grams)

- A small bowl of yogurt

- A tall glass of calcium fortified soy milk (250 ml)

Apart from dairy, calcium is also found in other non-dairy foods like – beans (red, white, chickpeas), tofu, broccoli, nuts and green leafy vegetables. However, milk is the best single source for calcium.

What to do if my teenager won’t drink milk and eat dairy?

Teenagers are highly self-conscious and are influenced by peer pressure. During adolescence, children tend to avoid drinking milk and eating dairy, fearing that it would make them fat. If your child fears milk and dairy because of weight gain, then you can consider low-fat toned milk with fortified calcium and vitamin D.

This provides them with the necessary nutrition, without adding extra fat to their diet. A glass of toned milk has lower calories and fat compared to whole milk, while providing 1/3rd of your teenager’s calcium intake.

Alternatively, you can provide your teenager with orange juice fortified with calcium. While this is recommended as an alternative, it isn’t the best choice. Remember to stay away from sugary fruit drinks and aerated sodas, as they don’t contain any nutritional value and add only empty calories to your child’s diet.

Best ways to increase your teenager’s calcium intake.

Here are some expert tips to ensure that your teenager meets his/her calcium requirements.

- Choose the right breakfast - cereals, oat porridges, fruit smoothies ensure that your children get an extra serving of milk, right at the start of the day.

- Grate cheese on pulav, soups and pasta for an extra calcium boost. The added advantage is that cheese provides an intense flavour.

- Serve milk-based soups to provide extra calcium serving to your children.

- Include nuts like almonds in their diet. Stick to plain unflavoured nuts, instead of roasted nuts that have tons of artificial flavours and salt.

- Choose calcium-rich snacks like curd and paneer.

- Include plenty of green leafy vegetables like spinach in your child’s diet.

- Tea time: If your teenager drinks coffee or tea, you can add milk to it to boost their calcium intake. Else, look for flavoured or fortified milk to serve as evening snacks.

- Include seafood like salmon and sardines that are excellent sources of calcium.

- Tofu is a good non-dairy alternative source of calcium. You can either blend it into a smoothie or add it to a vegetable stir-fry.

What about calcium Supplements?

It’s best for teenagers to get their calcium from their diet. However, if you feel that your kid doesn’t get the recommended levels of calcium, consult your physician to find out whether you should add any calcium supplements to your child’s diet.

Are strong bones dependent only on the calcium intake?

Apart from calcium, you need to ensure that your child gets sufficient levels of vitamin D. This vitamin plays a crucial role in helping the body absorb calcium.

Also, make sure that you encourage your teenager to be involved in regular physical activities and exercises like jogging, running, skipping rope and more. Teenagers need at least three 30-minute physical activity sessions every week to build strong bones and muscles.

Ensure to include calcium in your child’s diet in the growing years, and lay the foundation for a strong future today!