Calcium and Milk

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Children need calcium for proper bone growth, but many children do not receive sufficient calcium in their diet. The Institute of Medicine recommends calcium in the diet as follows:

1-3 years 500 mg 12-16 ounces milk per day
4-8 years 800 mg 16-24 ounces milk per day
9-18 years 1300 mg 4 cups milk per day
19-50 years 1000 mg  



An 8-ounce glass of milk contains 300 mg. Dairy products like yogurt and cheese are other good sources, as are orange juice or soy milk with added calcium (check the label). Broccoli and other dark vegetables contain some calcium, but extremely large quantities (many cups) are required for significant calcium intake. If the diet is deficient in calcium, Tums®, Rolaids®, Viactiv®, or other calcium supplement may be given each day to reach the recommended intake.

We suggest that you add up the amount of calcium that your child usually gets in a day, and increase it if the targets above are not being reached. Milk from a carton contains Vitamin D in sufficient quantities for good calcium absorption. But if most of the calcium in the diet is from other sources without Vitamin D, we recommend any non-prescription children’s vitamin to be given daily. I recommend that whole milk be given for all children ages 12-24 months. After the 2nd birthday, we suggest that you switch to low-fat milk.

Some people are lactose intolerant. If your child complains of abdominal cramps or diarrhea with milk, you might try Lactaid® milk or pills. Soda is unfortunately popular with children and teenagers, but it tends to leach calcium from the bones and counteract the effect of dietary calcium. If soda is given, we suggest no more than 2 servings a week; even better, try to limit soda to special occasions.

     --  Copyright © David Epstein MD, 2007