Why is calcium deficiency so dangerous? Judy Stenmark of the International Osteoporosis Foundation says that it’s vital for strong bones, since calcium is a major building block of our skeleton.
“Children and adolescents have the highest calcium needs because their bones are still developing. Calcium, together with vitamin D and exercise, is a key ingredient that helps each child attain his or her maximum genetically determined peak bone mass,” Stenmark explains. “A child who is not getting the optimal amount of calcium is not building up bone mass to its maximum level. When that child reaches adulthood, they will be more susceptible to osteoporosis.”
So what can we feed our kids that contains ample calcium? “Milk and other dairy foods are the most readily available sources of the mineral, but there are other food sources,” Stenmark says. These include green vegetables (broccoli, curly kale, bok choy), whole canned fish with soft, edible bones such as sardines or pilchards, nuts (almonds and Brazil nuts), and tofu.
“Milk, yoghurt and cheeses should also be part of the diet. Foods like hummus, figs, sesame and beans are also calcium-rich. But calcium doesn’t work alone, it needs vitamin D to be optimally absorbed. Many studies have shown that people in the Middle East, including young people, are not getting enough vitamin D, so children should be encouraged to play outside.”