Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Non dairy sources of Calcium

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body, the majority of which is found in teeth and the skeleton. It is also essential to nervous and muscle tissue activity. 

The major source of calcium in the diet is milk and milk products (cheese, yogurt etc) and closely followed by cereals. 

What happens then, when you have a child who can't have dairy due to an intolerance or allergy? 

The amount of calcium needed daily increases as the child grows. About 20-30% of calcium that reached the small intestine is used. However, not all sources of calcium are created equal! Calcium must be available in a suitable form to cross the gastrointestinal mucosa (lining), and the amount available for the body to use is called the bioavailability. The bioavailability of calcium in formula milks is less than breastmilk, so formula milk is made with higher levels of calcium. 

What choices do you have if you can't have dairy?
Well, there are other sources of calcium. Cereals, eggs, fish and some plants are also good sources of calcium and should be included in the diet of your baby (as long as they not have an allergy to the item in question). 

Alternative sources of calcium include:
  1. Green, leafy vegetables: kale, spinach, broccoli, watercress.
  2. Soya - (If baby can tolerate), yogurts, tofu etc. 
  3. Nuts/Seeds - nut butters (almond, cashew), sesame seeds, tahini, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, walnuts. 
  4. Fish and Eggs
  5. Legumes: Lentils, chick peas etc. 
  6. Fortified cereals and breads
The table below gives an idea of the calcium content of some foods:

For most babies, breastfeeding on demand, or formula intake of 500-600mls/day is thought to provide most of the daily calcium intake. I try to sneak some extra into T in the form of "creamy" pasta dishes and white sauce in fish pies for example.

If you suspect that your child is not receiving enough calcium in their diet, then please speak to your dietician for further advice. 

Try adding green vegetables to dishes to increase the calcium content

Further reading:
Dietary Calcium and Health (2005)
American Academy of Pediatrics: Calcium requirements in infants, children and adolescents (1999) Pediatrics 194(5); 1152-1157
See also this website (Kellymom) for more information.

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