Feeding growing bones

By • Published: July 26th, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Ever been the gangly kid suddenly three inches taller than your classmates? Adolescence is a time of growth spurts, and teens need special diets to make sure their bodies get all the nutrition needed during this period of development. And perhaps number one on that list is calcium. Calcium supports intensive bone growth, muscular development and hormonal changes, as well as a host of metabolic and cellular functions. But experts say most children worldwide don’t get the recommended amount.

Bone is the major reservoir of calcium in the body, and teens reach up to half of their adult bone mass during adolescence. Adequate calcium is needed to help prevent fractures associated with growth spurts and protect against osteoporosis in later years. In addition, the body uses up more minerals, including calcium, during the hormonal turbulence of the teen years.

Many foods are now fortified with calcium, but milk and dairy remain the main sources of the mineral in Western diets. But parents’ nagging to “drink your milk” seems to work only to a point. Less than a quarter of American adolescents drink three or more glasses of milk a day.

Many adolescents have replaced calcium-rich milk with carbonated and caffeinated beverages as their drink of choice. Not only do those drinks crowd out milk from the diet, but some chemical and caffeine components may interfere with calcium absorption in the body and contribute to bone loss and increased fracture risk. Cereals and legumes such as peas and beans are good sources of calcium, but as you may guess, legumes are not top meal choices for teens these days.

If you want your teenagers to include more calcium in their diets, talk to them about how important the mineral is for their health and growth, both in the short and long term. And make sure to load up the dinner table with calcium-rich foods.