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Additional sources of calcium come in all shapes and sizes

Karen Stephens

Milk plays an absolutely vital role in children’s development, and the importance of calcium as part of their diet takes center stage during National Dairy Month in June.

Karen Stephens, a registered dietitian and the assistant director of nutrition at Children’s Mercy, stressed the role of a balanced intake of nutrients and said milk, yogurt and cheese are great ways for kids to receive many of them in a single glass, cup or slice.

“We benefit from a wide variety of nutrients,” Stephens said. “If we have a lot of different foods, that’s when we’re going to be healthiest, and milk is a big part of that.”

Stephens typically recommends kids incorporate three cups or 24 ounces of a dairy product per day to ensure the continued growth of bone mass, which continues to increase until around the age of 18 or 19.

But what about kids who might have an allergy or adverse reaction to dairy products? Not to worry, Stephens said. There are plenty of other options for children who can’t stomach the most common sources of calcium.

Soy milk provides a solid option for many of the same nutrients and benefits found in cow’s milk, though the same can’t be said for other products like almond, hemp, oat or rice milk, which Stephens said don’t have the same nutritional benefits.

“They taste good, but they’re just not nutritious options,” Stephens said.

For those looking for other sources of calcium, leafy greens like kale or spinach, along with oranges and potatoes, and even canned salmon are options.

Supplements and vitamins can also provide kids with the required amount of nutrients for their growth, especially among those who might have an early childhood allergy or are lactose intolerant. Every child is different, of course, and trying different options to round out a child’s diet can be an ongoing process.

Stephens said most children will grow out of allergies to dairy or soy products between the ages of 3 and 5, and the additional minerals found in milk and yogurt — like protein, Vitamin D and calcium — are of utmost importance to a child’s overall health.

“I think it’s really important,” Stephens said. “So often we think of it as bones and teeth, and it’s crucial for those. But it also affects our health system, and it’s just a general nutrient that we need.”

Continuing to include dairy into children’s diets is also vital into their teenage years, Stephens said. Neglecting to strengthen bones throughout adolescence can lead to additional health risks later in life.

“Our kids are just not drinking enough milk products, so that’s a problem,” Stephens said. “Your bones have to last until you’re 90 years old. After the formative adolescent years, you can’t really add or build onto it any more. Those adolescent years are the years that are really important.”

See the whole story via the Liberty Tribune.

Learn more about the Department of Nutrition Services at Children's Mercy.