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Enough Calcium Without Cow’s Milk??

By Kelley Shirazi

Now that your child is done with breastfeeding or bottles, how can you make sure she’s getting all the nutrients she needs? We know that children need calcium to build strong bones. Cow’s milk is a good source of calcium and a natural choice for many parents.
But can your child get the same amount of calcium without cow’s milk? The answer is a resounding yes, as long as you know what to look for.

How much calcium does my child need?
It’s important to know that your child’s calcium requirements vary during each stage of development. Toddlers from 1 to 3 years old require 500 mg of calcium per day; children 4 to 8 years old need 800 mg per day, while children 9 to 18 years old need 1,300 mg per day.

One cup of milk contains approximately 300 mg of calcium. If your child is able to eat dairy and old enough to drink juice, you can substitute one cup of yogurt, 1-½ ounces of cheese or one cup of calcium-fortified orange juice in place of one cup of milk to get the same 300 mg of calcium.Orange juice has the added benefit of having calcium that’s easily absorbed by the body.

Fortified soy and rice milks are also excellent choices. It’s easy to check the calcium content of these foods by looking at the %DV (daily value) on the food label. For packaged foods, the %DV for calcium on food labels is based on 1,000 milligrams of calcium.

As a result, simply multiplying the number next to the "%" by 10 will yield the actual milligrams of calcium that one serving provides. For example, if the label reads 15% calcium, 15 x 10 = 150 -- so one serving provides 150 mg of calcium.

Make sure to look for products that are fortified with at least 30% of the daily value of calcium, which is the same amount as found in cow’s milk.

Non-dairy sources of calcium
Besides soy and rice milks, calcium-fortified waffles, rice and soy cheeses and soy yogurts are also great alternatives. The calcium content in each of these products can vary, so be sure to check the product label for calcium content of 30%DV. If you can’t find a particular product with 30% calcium content, you’ll simply need to increase your child’s intake of other calcium-rich foods to compensate.

Tofu and many green, leafy vegetables are also high in calcium, although less so than dairy foods. The best choices include kale, broccoli and bok choi as well as collard greens and whole grains, particularly oats. It can be tough to get some of these foods into your toddler’s diet, but there are ways to sneak them in.

Try pureeing steamed broccoli and adding it to your child’s spaghetti sauce. You can add some extra nutrients to your child’s macaroni and cheese by blending tofu, soy cottage cheese and flavored soy cheese to make the sauce. My 22-month-old daughter and my husband love this! We also make oatmeal and add calcium-fortified vanilla soy milk. It’s a delicious way to start the day.

The following table provides a breakdown of the calcium content in some non-dairy foods:

Non-Dairy Sources of Calcium Calcium (mg) Calories
1/2 cup tofu* 200-434 90-100
1 cup collard greens 357 60
3 oz. sardines with bones 350 190
1 cup fortified orange juice** 300 109
1 cup fortified soy milk** 300 80
3 oz. canned salmon with bones 200 130
1 Tablespoon blackstrap molasses 172 50
1 cup turnip or beet greens 165-200 30-40
1 cup rutabagas, mashed 115 95
1 cup soybeans, cooked 175 300
1 cup white beans, cooked 130 250
2 Tablespoons tahini (sesame paste) 120 170
1 cup broccoli, cooked 90 50

*set with calcium sulfate
**fortified products with a DV of 30 percent contain 300 milligrams of calcium

Source: USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference

High-calcium snack ideas
Here are some ideas for healthy, calcium-rich snacks:

• Fruit smoothies made with fresh fruit, juice, dairy or soy yogurt and ice

• Mozzarella string cheese

• Soy, rice or dairy cheese and crackers

• Flour or whole wheat tortillas and melted low-fat dairy, soy or rice cheese quesadillas

• Cottage cheese and fruit

• Whole wheat bagel and cream cheese

• Plain, fruited or frozen dairy or soy yogurt

• Tahini hummus and pita bread

Read more about building calcium into your child’s diet

© Kelley Shirazi

Kelley Shirazi’s interest in natural health and nutrition started in college, when she studied herbology and holistic health along with her women’s studies major. After graduation, she created Oceana Botanical Herbal Products, a line of petrochemical- and alcohol-free personal care and baby care products. A passionate advocate of organic, hormone-free foods, Kelley is currently studying toward her master’s of science degree in holistic nutrition. She lives in Oregon with her husband and daughter.

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