Calcium is integral for healthy bones and teeth. It is also essential for other body functions like blood clotting and heart, muscle, and nerve functioning. Bones store approximately 99% of the calcium in the body. To perform daily functions, the human body needs steady levels of calcium. Children require an adequate intake of calcium to minimise the risk of fractures and bone softening diseases such as rickets in childhood and osteoporosis in later years.
Calcium deficiency symptoms in babies
Signs of calcium deficiency in babies are not noticeable initially because vitamin D and hormones such as parathyroid hormone work to keep calcium levels steady. When children's calcium levels are too low, they are more likely to develop symptoms. The following are some of the most common calcium deficiency symptoms in babies:
- Muscle weakness or cramps
- Tingling or numbness in fingers
- Poor appetite
- Abnormal heart rate
- Difficulty walking
- Seizures or fits
- Difficulty breathing and using hands
- Dry skin and hair
- Brittle nails
Causes of calcium deficiency
Calcium deficiency in babies may occur due to a variety of causes, such as:
- Low intake of dairy
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Kidney problems
- Diabetes during pregnancy
- Premature or difficult birth
- Low levels of parathyroid hormone
- Medications such as steroids or diuretics
- Genetic causes that alter the levels of vitamin D and parathyroid hormone
- Lactose intolerance is when the body cannot digest dairy products.
Prevention of calcium deficiency in babies
Simple dietary changes can help your child get enough calcium in a day and prevent calcium deficiency. Babies from six to 11 months require 260 mg of calcium a day, and children between one and three years need 700 mg of calcium a day.Calcium is found in various animal and plant-based foods. Babies can get enough calcium from breast milk or formula. For young kids and school-going children, dairy foods like milk, curd, and cheese are the best sources of calcium.
Plant-based calcium sources include:
- Calcium-fortified milk (soymilk, almond milk, rice milk)
- Sesame seeds
- White and red beans
- Broccoli, kale, and spinach.
Along with calcium, it is essential to include enough vitamin D in your child’s diet as it helps in absorbing calcium.
Here are some tips to increase calcium intake in children:
- Use almond butter.
- Add tofu to stir-fried vegetables.
- Sprinkle sesame seeds on baked dishes or vegetables.
- Sprinkle cheese on meals or snacks.
- Add a drizzle of strawberry or chocolate syrup to regular milk.
- Add fruit butter to cottage cheese or curd.
- Whip up smoothies using fresh fruits and any plant-based milk or regular milk.
- Make parfaits with fruits, cereal, and curd.
- Use slivered almonds or boiled chickpeas in salads.
- Make soups with white beans.
- Include leafy greens with meals.
Here are some calcium-rich recipes that your child will like:
- Banana milkshake: Blend one medium-sized ripe banana, half a cup of milk, and half a cup of curd until smooth. You can also add other fruits.
- Peanut butter milkshake: Blend one tablespoon of peanut butter, half a cup of milk, half a cup of vanilla ice cream, and two tablespoons of milk powder until smooth and serve.
- Frozen curd fruit pop: Blend one cup of curd, a quarter cup of milk powder, two tablespoons of sugar, and one cup of chopped fruit until smooth. Pour the mixture into cups and freeze until slushy. Insert a popsicle stick into each cup and freeze until set.
- Green salad: Stir half a cup of curd or sour cream, one tablespoon of lime juice, half a teaspoon of lemon zest, and two tablespoons of water to get a smooth dressing. Add half a teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of salt to taste. In a serving bowl, add one small chopped carrot, a cucumber, and half a head of lettuce. Pour the dressing over the veggies, toss until evenly coated, and serve.
- Buttermilk: Blend one cup of curd, one cup of water, two tablespoons of lemon juice, one tablespoon of chopped ginger, and a pinch of rock salt in a mixer. Add chopped mint or coriander leaves and mix well.
- Ragi smoothie: Mix 45 grams of roasted ragi powder, one and a half bananas, and 15 grams of jaggery in a mixer. Add 200 ml of any liquid like regular milk, coconut milk, or buttermilk and blend till smooth.
In some cases, dietary calcium and vitamin D alone will not be sufficient for your child. Ask your paediatrician if your child requires supplements.