Childhood is a crucial time for bone health since growing bones increase their mineral content until they reach a peak density during a person’s mid to late twenties. But many parents are still unsure where to source vital bone nutrients in their kids’ daily diets. Missing this window of opportunity during childhood can lead to fragile bones later in life and a higher risk of fractures.
A new report, commissioned by Petits Filous, found that a third of parents are worried that their children aren’t getting the right nutrients or exercise to protect bone health. And four in ten parents were unaware that children need a diet that’s richer in calcium and vitamin D compared with adults to meet their needs. In fact, children need four and a half times more calcium and seven times more vitamin D weight for weight to support optimal bone growth.
Good sources of these nutrients in the diet are dairy foods for calcium – such as fromage frais, yogurt, milk and cheese – and oily fish or eggs for vitamin D. Other bone nutrient essentials include magnesium, iodine, vitamin C and protein. The nutrients work together with weight-bearing exercise which encourages bone growth.
Check out my five top tips for brilliant bones:
1. Close the dairy gap: Experts recommend three dairy servings each day, but the Petits Filous report revealed that more than half of children are missing out. Aim to give your child a glass of milk, a serving of yogurt or fromage frais, and a matchbox-sized piece of cheese daily.
Yogurt provides essential calcium, protein, vitamin B2 and iodine, and certain yogurts and fromage frais are fortified with vitamin D too. There’s 140 mg of calcium in 100g of kids’ fromage frais, whilst 150 g of unsweetened whole milk yogurt provides 300 mg of calcium. This is a good start towards children’ daily calcium needs which range from 450 mg in younger children to 1000 mg in teen boys. A Petits Filous fromage frais mixed fruits contains 2.5 mcg of vitamin D per 85g pot which is officially rich in vitamin D. If your child is dairy-free, ensure that alternative products are fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
2. Jump for joy: Weight-bearing exercise is best for bones. Luckily most kids enjoy running, jumping and skipping so try to encourage them to do this every day for at least an hour, as recommended by the World Health Organisation.
3. D is for density: calcium works in partnership with vitamin D, which is why we need both in the diet for optimal bone health. Salmon, fortified foods, eggs and mushrooms are key natural sources, but we are all advised to take a 10-microgram supplement in autumn and winter.
4. Get your greens: other nutrients are also important for bone health. These include magnesium, found in green vegetables, beans and whole grains; phosphorus, found in meat, fish and peanuts; iodine, found in yogurt and fish; and vitamin C, found in oranges and peppers.
5. Get outdoors: summer sunshine is the main way to boosts vitamin D in the body so encourage kids to play outside for 10-15 minutes a day before taking the usual precautions against sunburn. Children with darker skins will need slightly longer in the sun to make enough vitamin D.
Dr Carrie Ruxton is a dietitian advisor to Petits Filous - www.petitsfilous.co.uk