Calcium: how much milk is enough & dairy free diets

Calcium

Calcium is an important part of an infant and child’s diet in order for them to grow healthy bones and teeth. Our bones grow in size and increase in density until around 19 years of age so it’s critically important that all through childhood we are feeding our bones to be as strong as possible. But how much milk is enough and what should you do if your child can’t or won’t eat dairy?

It is important to note that although it’s important that children get enough calcium, many are drinking more milk than is necessary which can lead to rapid weight gain and in many children will stop them eating as much solid food as they should. There are links between excessive milk intake and iron deficiency anaemia so finding the balance is also important!

What are our calcium requirements during childhood?

As you can see from the tables below the requirements vary throughout childhood and although you don’t need to be measuring exactly it’s helpful to have an idea of what you’re aiming for. At 11 years old requirements increase dramatically, especially for boys so it’s important we keep an eye on calcium intakes to meet the needs of growing adolescents.

Boys:

Age (years)Requirement (mg)
Up to 1525
1-3350
4-6450
7-10550
11-181000

Girls:

Age (years)Requirement (mg)
Up to 1525
1-3350
4-6450
7-10550
11-18800

In the UK our main sources of calcium are dairy products and the below table gives an indication of calcium levels in the dairy foods we most commonly consume.

As a quick example a 1-3 year old child can meet their daily requirements with:

1.       300mls milk

2.       200ml of milk + 15g of cheese (1/2 a matchbox).

3.       100ml of milk + 15g of cheese + a yoghurt

Milk as a drink is not suitable until 1 year of age; until this point your child should be drinking breastmilk or formula and from 6 months water. It is fine to be used in food such as cereal from 6 months and should be full fat until 2 years of age, when if your child is growing adequately and eating a good balanced diet you can switch to semi skimmed.

TypeVolume (mg/ml)Calcium (mg)
Milk (all)100120
Yoghurt125 (standard pot)200
Cheese15 (1/2 matchbox)110
Fromage frais*50 (small pot)60
Custard125125

*please note that some fromage frais is fortified with calcium so calcium levels will be higher in these products.

What if your child doesn’t eat dairy?

It’s entirely possible meet your child’s calcium needs without giving them dairy but it does take more thinking and planning (and ideally you should speak to a registered dietitian). What they can have does depend whether you’re avoiding dairy due to an allergy or whether it is personal preference.

If your child has cows milk protein allergy (CMPA), soya products may not be suitable as a percentage of children with CMPA are also allergic to soy.

If you are omitting dairy for personal reasons then soy is fine to be giving to your child once they are over six months.

Below are some of the calcium containing non dairy foods that you can offer to your child (this list is by no means exhaustive so please do get in contact if you need additional information!)

The plant based milks and yoghurts will not contain any fortification if they are organic so please do check the packaging before you buy. This blog is only focussing on calcium, so please do be aware that many milk alternatives are much lower in protein, fat overall energy and other vitamins and minerals to a dairy milk.

FoodVolume (mg/ml)Calcium (mg)
Fortified
plant based milks* (soya/almond/coconut etc)
100120
Fortified soya yoghurt125150
Fortified hot oat cereal (such as ready brek or supermarket own)15200
Other fortified cereal30130-150
Broccoli 85 (2 spears)35
Tinned sardines with bones 60 (1/2 can)260
Tahini1070

*Children under 4.5 should not be given rice milk due to high arsenic content.  **information taken from BDA calcium factsheet

Vitamin D:

Vitamin D is essential for the absorption of calcium so it’s important to make sure that your child is not low in this vitamin. It is recommended that everyone in the UK takes a vitamin D supplement as our lack of exposure to the sun’s rays means lots of people are deficient. For babies under 1 year (who are NOT having 500mls or more of formula) a supplement containing 8.5mcg  and everyone over 1 year of age 10mcg is required.

I hope you’ve found the information about calcium useful! If you are concerned about your child’s calcium intake; either you’re worried that they’re drinking too much milk, or you don’t think they’re getting enough calcium then please do get in contact to see how I could help you 😊.