Why Your Teens May Need More Calcium in Their Diet

calcium sources on a tray
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Adequate calcium intake is especially important for teens because of the future risk of osteoporosis. According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation, calcium is the main mineral involved in the formation and strengthening of bones, and calcium requirements are high during teenage years, since it's a period during which there are major growth spurts. 

Humans build about 75% of our bones from puberty into our late twenties, so inadequate calcium during these years puts us at future risk for brittle bones and fractures.

Our bodies also need calcium for more than just bones. This important mineral enables our muscles to move, nerves to carry messages between the brain and other body parts, arteries and veins to move blood throughout the body, and enzymes and hormones to actively regulate just about every function of our bodies. If you want your teen to have every opportunity to succeed at school, play on a sports team, or just be healthy, it's important that they get adequate amounts of calcium every day.

Based on recommendations made by the National Institutes of Health, teens between the ages of 13 and 18 need a total of 1300 mg of calcium a day — but they often get much less than that. It's important to note that approximately 9 out of 10 teenage girls and 7 out of 10 teenage boys don't get enough calcium in their diets.

Great Food Sources of Calcium

A total of 1300 mg of calcium can sound like a lot, but what does that really mean? You can think of it this way. Each of the following foods contains about 300 mg of calcium in the serving size stated, so eating or drinking a combination of four to five of these foods every day will give your teen the amount they need:

  • An 8-ounce glass of milk​
  • An 8-ounce glass of calcium-fortified orange juice
  • 1 cup of yogurt
  • 2 slices of American cheese

Great sources of calcium include fortified cereals, fortified soy milk, dairy products, and non-dairy products like certain fish (with soft bones you can eat), tofu, and leafy greens and vegetables such as spinach, kale, cabbage, and broccoli. One cup of chopped broccoli contains about 40mg of calcium and also provides a variety of vitamins and nutrients (it also tastes delicious in a homemade mac and cheese).

It's important to note that for your body to absorb calcium, you also need adequate amounts of vitamin D (400 IU a day).

This means that sources of calcium that also contain vitamin D, like fortified cereals, are helpful. Additionally, getting enough time outside in the sunlight allows our bodies to make vitamin D — another reason to encourage your teen to get up from the computer and get outside.

Start by reading the labels on the foods you buy, and tell your teen about why consuming enough calcium matters. They may act like they don't care or aren't listening, but over time and with many reminders, they'll probably pick up that container of yogurt to snack on without having to be asked twice.

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  1. International Osteoporosis Foundation. Preventing osteoporosis.

  2. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Calcium fact sheet for consumers. Updated December 6, 2019.