How Can I Make Sure My Kids are Getting Enough Calcium Without Milk?
Q: “My kids aren’t fans of milk and I don’t push it. Are they missing out on calcium or other nutrients to build strong bones and teeth? We do drink some almond milk and occasionally coconut milk, but in the back of my mind, I wonder if we should be supplementing with something additional.”
A: “This may surprise you, but your kids can get all the calcium and other nutrients they need for strong bones and teeth without ever drinking a drop of cow’s milk. Humans like all other mammals were not designed to ingest breast milk after the first few years of life. After weaning, most of the enzymes needed to adequately digest the milk sugars (lactose) and milk proteins (casein and whey) decline in the human body since these substances are not in the other foods we traditionally hunt and gather. This is why so many people have digestive issues, true allergies and sensitivities to milk and other dairy products.
Kids can get the 800-1300mg of calcium recommended daily by eating a variety of other whole, unprocessed foods including spinach, kale, okra, collards, Chinese cabbage, soy beans (edamame), tofu, broccoli, beans, salmon, and sardines. Calcium is also found in fortified foods like breakfast cereals, orange juice, and most nut, rice, soy and coconut milks.
More importantly, kids need to get enough vitamin D, magnesium, manganese and vitamin K to help the body absorb calcium into its more than 200 bones and teeth. Without adequate calcium absorption, studies have shown that their bodies can be plagued later in life with osteoporosis, heart disease, hypertension, cancer and kidney stones.
Here are a few whole food sources of calcium absorption-aiding nutrients.
Magnesium – spinach, swiss chard, cocoa powder, pumpkin, squash, sesame seeds, tahini, molasses, dry roasted soy beans (edamame), almonds, cashews, whole grain oats, wheat,
Manganese – spinach, wheat germ, rice bran, oat bran, hazelnuts, pine nuts, pecans, roasted pumpkin and squash seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds, tahini, sunflower seeds, dry roasted edamame, chili powder, cocoa power, chili powder
Vitamin K – dried herbs including basil, sage and thyme; deeply colored leafy greens like kale, collards, cress, spinach, turnip Greens, mustard greens, beet greens, swiss chard; broccoli, spring onions (scallions), brussels sprouts, asparagus, pickled cucumber and prunes
Vitamin D –. Vitamin D is in very few whole foods in very small amounts-fatty fish (like tuna, mackerel, and salmon), beef liver, and egg yolks.
Your body also makes vitamin D with exposure to sunlight, but that process is hindered with sunscreen and because kids are spending more time in doors. Therefore some foods have been fortified with vitamin D like dairy products, orange juice, soy milk, and cereals. Doctors are also recommending up to 5000 IU of supplemental vitamin D per day to help with calcium absorption and other immune boosting benefits of vitamin D.
Try out these recipes below for a smoothie and a side dish rich in calcium and other nutrients your kids can enjoy to grow strong bones and teeth.
Almond Butter and “Jelly” Green Smoothie
Spinach and almonds are packed full of calcium along with other antioxidants and phytonutrients, so this green smoothie is super healthy and yummy. No added sugar or water needed. This is a sweet take on a child’s classic sandwich filled with fresh fruit and leafy greens.
2 ripe bananas
2 c. red and/or black grapes
2 c. baby spinach
4 Tbsp almond butter
- Blend your spinach and grapes together until you get a juice-like consistency
- Add remaining ingredients and blend
- Chill in refrigerator for an hour or use frozen grapes instead of fresh.
- Top with raw sliced almonds
Sautéed Swiss Chard with Toasted Sesame Seeds
1 large bunch fresh Swiss chard
1 ½ Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small clove garlic, sliced
Pinch of dried crushed red pepper
2 Tbsp water
1 tsp Earth Balance or butter
Pinch of salt
1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds (or toasted pumpkin seeds)
- Rinse Swiss chard in water and remove the toughest third of the stalk.
- Chop Swiss chard leaves into 1-inch wide strips.
- Heat medium-sized sauté pan on medium heat.
- Add olive oil, sliced garlic and crushed red pepper; Sauté for about a minute.
- Add chopped Swiss chard leaves and cover for 5 minutes.
- Add 1-2 Tbsp water and flip chard over, so what was on the bottom is now on the top and cover for 5 more minutes
- Check for doneness by removing a piece of cooked chard and tasting to make sure it is tender.
- Add 1 tsp butter or Earth Balance spread and pinch of salt.
- Toss to combine.
- Sprinkle with toasted sesame or pumpkin seeds.
- Serve immediately.
- Recipes are vegan and gluten-free
- Use organic ingredients when possible
Angela offers private nutrition counseling in office, over the internet and makes house calls! She also teaches workshops and corporate wellness programs. To learn more about Angela and upcoming classes visit www.vitalandwell.com.