When I described how my 8-year-old daughter and I didn’t really eat a lot of dairy due to digestive issues, a friend wisely asked, “But what about calcium? Don’t you both need calcium? It’s so important! It’s the number one thing doctors recommend for kids!”
Admittedly, I blanked. She was right. And I stuttered how we had alternative sources like beans, vegetables, fortified almond milks as substitutions. My friend wasn’t convinced (my delivery was kinda poor). And then I doubted myself. I doubted that we were getting enough good sources of calcium. And so, I decided to try us both on lactose-free dairy for a while to gauge our reactions. BAD IDEA. My daughter’s GERD flared up within two weeks (this is definitely a protein allergy, not lactose intolerance), and I bloated and burped and farted. It wasn’t pretty.
And so, here I sit three months later, still reflecting on calcium. While I’m glad we both tried dairy (sensitivities can change), I am disappointed that I didn’t have a better response to the question at the time, and secondly, that I tuned out my maternal spidey sense and re-introduced dairy much too soon to a little girl who's body doesn't want it.
So what about calcium? Turns out, we weren’t doing that bad, but some practical improvements were necessary.
Calcium requirements are HIGHEST for children ages 9 – 13 and pregnant/lactating women at 1,300 milligrams per day. Adults require only 1,000 mg per day, but that increases for women over the age of 51 (1,200) and all seniors (1,200 at 71 years of age). My daughter is very tall (as tall as a 9 or 10-year-old), so I'm guessing she requires somewhere between 1,000 to 1,300 mg daily and me, only 1,000 mg.
When I looked at calcium food sources and what we generally eat, here’s how it broke down: 1 cup fortified almond or rice milk (300mg but unfortunately with calcium carbonate), ½ cup white beans (80 mg); 1 Tbsp tahini (80 mg), fortified cereal (200 mg), 1 egg (35 mg). When you factor in other smaller portions (nuts/seeds, vegetables), on average, we were both targeting about 600 - 800mg per day.
So, we are a little low on the calcium intake, but we both meet and exceed “basic” recommendations for Vitamin D. Vitamin D is responsible for a host of reactions on the body (scientists are just scratching the surface of understanding) and it is absolutely required for calcium absorption into the bones. So, no matter how much calcium you’re getting in your diet, it’s absorption could be compromised.
During the winter months (Oct – May), vitamin D is very difficult to get from food and it is non-existent from the sun in our northern climate during this time. For supplementation, the basic recommendations are 600 IU for children. I give my children 1,000 – 2,000 IU of liquid Vitamin D3, depending on whether or not they are fighting something (vitamin D is also tied to immune status). I take anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 IU during the winter months. New recommendations are upwards of 4,000 IU for adults daily, not to exceed 10,000 IU.
So, while we are a little low on calcium, I feel confident in knowing what we are eating is getting absorbed. I also feel confident knowing that my diet is high in leafy greens and my daughter also eats a ton of fruits and vegetables (all alkalizing to the blood which again promotes healthy calcium absorption). A diet that is acidic in nature (not enough produce and too much protein, dairy and some fats) can also impact calcium absorption because the body will naturally pull calcium (and other minerals) from the bones to buffer and balance pH blood levels.
HOWEVER, I admit that I can do a better job and I’m thankful to my friend for asking the question. We are both now taking calcium supplements to round out our targets, and I’m trying to brainstorm other ways of upping our calcium intake.
Another thing to note - calcium citrate is a more bioavailable form of calcium. Calcium carbonate (which is the cheap form used to fortify foods and used in inexpensive, mass market calcium supplements) is chalk. I think this subject may merit another calcium blog.
I’m also brainstorming ways on how to increase my daughter’s magnesium intake (the third component of calcium absorption). She doesn't like the supplements, so food is our go-to.
Homemade “yogurt” pops with fortified almond/rice milk
Homemade trail mix (nut free) to take to school, with sunflower seeds + pumpkin seeds + fortified cereals + cranberries or chocolate chips
Black bean brownies as a treat (high in magnesium)
Navy beans as a substitution to chickpeas for bean dips and as a thickener in broccoli soup
Cashews as snacks for home
Any more ideas, please pass them my way! They don’t have to perfect, just practical!
For more information on calcium, visit: