Fortifying the Wonder Years with Calcium

There's more to calcium than just milk and milk products

Kalyani Sardesai

A typical teenager seems to live a life of contrasts -- which are two jarring notes with zero harmony between them. On the one hand is the increased level of day-to-day activity from competitive exams and extra-curricular activities to sports, on the other is the corresponding boom of the fast food culture that makes it cool to gorge on junk food, eschewing good old ghar ka khaana. The heath impact in the years to come may be brittle bones and frequent fractures.

"One can't expect a teen to place a high premium on diet, especially at a time when there is so much to be done," says nutritionist Sujata Gohil.

While the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad recommends a daily calcium intake of 600 to 800 mg, it also adds that it is desirable to exceed the minimum amount. Meanwhile,, a website dedicated to pediatric health, recommends at least 1,300 mg a day. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics pegs the amount at 1,300 mg between 9 and 18 years of age with an upper limit of 3,000 mg a day.

"Parents can include small changes in the daily diet of their teenagers," suggests Gohil. "Introduce nachni or ragi rotis along with veggies like green peas, spinach, kale and mushroom. These veggies are also good in the form of snacks which are instantly likable and the sky is the limit for tasty recipes. For instance, mushroom on a crisp multi-grain base with plenty of beans and carrots toasted or grilled in the OTG can make for a yummy pizza."

While traditionalists still place the bulk of the burden on milk and milk products, there are other viable alternatives for vegans. As noted animals right activist and vegan Manoj Oswal, also dad to a teenage daughter, points out: "There has been much research in recent years to successfully counter milk's position as the numero uno calcium provider to human beings. Also, as per researchers like John Robbins (author of the Diet that Changed America), in spite of its high calcium content, milk due to high protein and acidity content, appears actually to be contributing to the accelerating development of osteoporosis. How else do you explain that the US which is the highest consumer of dairy has the highest rate of osteoporosis as well? In our home, we rely on seeds like sesame and flax seeds, soya, rajgeera, pumpkin and spinach to up our intake of calcium."

But that's just half the story. Often people tend to forget that calcium needs the backing of Vitamin D to be absorbed -- which as per the American Academy of Pediatrics would be 600 IU for the same age group. Senior pediatrician Vasudha Mashankar says that the richest source of Vitamin D is sunlight and suggests plenty of time outdoors especially in the early hours of the day, when the sun is at its gentlest.

She also suggests doing away with soda-based drinks, sugar in hidden forms such as that found in breads and over the counter cereal brands. "Do away with the fast food culture at home and cook fresh, taking care to introduce locally available veggies and cereals," she says.

Experts at the NIN bill seeds, green leafy veggies and milk as the highest sources of calcium. Some of the finest sources for teens could be: Poppy seeds (1372 mg/100 g), Gingelly/Sesame seeds (1283 mg/100 g), Agathi (901 mg/100 g),  Althernethra Sessilis (a green leafy veggie also called Ponnaganti Koora in South (388 mg/100 g), Amaranth (372 mg/100 g), Ragi (364 mg/100 g; milk (120 mg/100 g).


Editor’s Pick

Recipes of the Day


Want more? Click on the tags below for more videos and stories