Got milk? This question was often asked in advertisements featuring celebrities sport-ing milk mustaches. What they should have been asking is: Are you cool with calcium?
Calcium helps build strong bones, and dairy products contribute calcium to our diets. That doesn’t mean milk consumption is the only way to provide our bodies with this im-portant mineral.
"Strong bones are built during childhood and contribute to healthy bones in adulthood, including fewer bone fractures, better posture, and overall mobility," says Jill Castle, a registered dietitian, childhood nutritionist and author of "The Calcium Handbook: Over 100 Ways to Grow Healthy Bones For Your Child." "It’s pretty clear the effort to build strong bones in childhood pays off in bone health as an adult."
Parents should continue to focus on their kids’ bone health. Kids are building 40 per-cent of their bone mass between the ages of 9 and 14. They will have 90 percent of peak bone mass acquired by age 18 (girls) and age 20 (boys), says the National Insti-tutes of Health (NIH).
Here are ways kids can help build healthy bones each day:
Consume three servings of low-fat or fat-free milk or other calcium-rich foods.
According to The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetrics, milk, cheese and yogurt are the richest natural sources of calcium. For kids who cannot consume milk, there are non-dairy options. They include almonds, broccoli, edamame, kale, sweet potatoes, as well as soy and rice milk.
Castle suggests serving milk and calcium-rich foods with all meals. But if milk is a chal-lenge, serve "a cheese stick, a container of yogurt or a frozen yogurt stick, or make a sandwich with calcium-enriched bread."
Get enough vitamin D.
"Vitamin D’s main job is to maintain normal levels of calcium and phosphorus in the blood, which are important for bone growth and health," Castle says of the "sunshine" vitamin. It also provides protection from osteoporosis, high blood pressure, cancer and autoimmune diseases.
It’s recommended that kids expose their bodies to the sun. This allows them to create the vitamin D needed for one day (hence, the name). The Vitamin Council says that 15 minutes of sun exposure is necessary for fair skin and a couple hours for dark skin.
Other factors that affect how much vitamin D kids get from the sun are time of day, where you live, and skin exposure.
The NIH says some of the best food sources for vitamin D are egg yolks, fatty fish (salmon and tuna), mushrooms, breakfast cereals and orange juice.
"Vitamin D is especially crucial for any growing child," Castle says "Whether it’s the sunshine of your active life, or the food from your family table, the benefits are the same. Getting a mix of both is the best way to ensure your kids are covered."
Children who do not get enough vitamin D are at a high risk of developing rickets. This condition makes bones soft and weak. Parents should speak with pediatrician about vitamin D supplements if they worry their kids are not getting enough.
And vitamin K and magnesium.
"Additionally, like vitamin D, our bodies can produce vitamin K on its own. We make it from certain bacteria in our gut, or digestive system," says Castle. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says eating leafy green vegetables, peas and green beans will increase vitamin K intake. Spinach, black beans, peanut butter, avocado and whole-wheat bread will help with magnesium.
Exercise for 30 minutes.
A study on optimizing bone health in children and adolescents from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests weight-bearing activities. Walking, jogging, jumping and dancing are better than swimming or bicycle riding. Other recommended activities include tennis, gymnastics, basketball, volleyball, skateboarding and soccer.
Cut back on sugary drinks.
The APP study also states that soda can prevent adolescents from achieving adequate calcium and vitamin D intake with no health benefits.
"If your child is drinking more than three or four cans per week, it is time to re-evaluate your drinks," says Castle. She suggests thinking of soda as a treat and not purchasing it while food shopping. "Healthy options, such as milk or 100 percent juice in recom-mended amounts, can enhance your child’s overall nutrient intake and be a satisfying drink."
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