Bone health is important for kids of all ages. As parents, we make sure our children drink their milk (cow’s milk or fortified non-dairy options) and get other calcium-rich options. While dairy foods are one important part of building healthier bones, other foods and nutrients beyond calcium are important too. Here are four key bone-building nutrients lacking in children’s diets.
Kids, just like adults, don’t eat enough of the fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that are richest in potassium. Potassium ensures normal heart and muscle function, maintains fluid balance, participates in energy production, and promotes strong bones.
How to Get More: Foods high in potassium include sweet potatoes, tomato sauces, beans, prunes, soybeans, and winter squash such as spaghetti squash, bananas, & orange juice.
Magnesium is involved in several hundred bodily functions responsible for keeping children growing. This mineral helps maintain normal muscle, nerve, and heart function; contributes to the immune system; energy production; and boosts bone health.
How to Get More: A diet high in green leafy vegetables, whole grains, and legumes can help increase magnesium intake.
Calcium helps bones grow and stay strong. Most calcium is stored in bones. If your child doesn’t get enough in his or her diet, the body will take it from their bones, which leaves bones compromised.
How to Get More: Offer a dairy option at each meal, including choices like milk, cheese or yogurt. Calcium-fortified non-dairy beverages and 100% juices are also good options. Some children may need a supplement if they don’t get enough from their diet.
Vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium and maximize bone growth and strength. Kids who get too little of it can develop soft bones (a condition called rickets) early in life and osteoporosis, which can show up later in life. The body makes the vitamin when exposed to sunlight, storing extra for future use, but most Americans lack sufficient exposure to UV rays during the winter months when the sunlight is more limited.
How to Get More: Foods rich in Vitamin D include most milk products and yogurt. Other foods that have it include fatty fish, such as salmon and light tuna.
EXERCISE COUNTS TOO!
In addition to eating a healthy, nutrient-rich diet, getting plenty of playtime is also important for bone health. When a child exercises, their bones respond to the stimuli by becoming stronger and denser. Weight-bearing exercise is best like running, ball sports, tennis, gymnastics and dancing. So let’s get dancing!