The strength of our skeletons depends on how we contribute calcium to our “bone bank.” Our bodies “deposit” the most calcium between the ages of 8 and 28 and especially between 12 and 16. During those years we need to eat and drink a lot of calcium and vitamin D – 1,000 mg Ca+ a day as a preteen, and 1,500 mg Ca+ a day as a teenager, plus 1000 IU of vitamin D a day for everyone over 2.
An 8 ounce glass of milk gives us 300 mg Ca+ and about 100 IU of vitamin D, so if we were to get our full dose of calcium from milk, we would have to drink 5 glasses of milk a day! That’s a lot of milk. Other foods have calcium, too– yogurt and cheeses of course (especially cottage cheese.) Non dairy sources include fortified orange juice, almonds, salmon, soybeans (tofu, edamame), dried figs, oranges, seaweed, fortified oatmeal, Cheerios, white beans and green leafy vegetables.
Getting enough calcium just by eating is hard, so we recommend that all teenagers take two Ultra Tums a day, after a meal, which contributes 1000 mg. of elemental calcium. Alternatives include Caltrate calcium gummies and Viactiv chewables- two a day also give you 1000 mg of calcium plus vitamin D.
It is also important to regularly engage in weight-bearing exercise, like running or lifting weights, which optimizes the amount of calcium deposited in the bones. Unfortunately swimming does have not the same effect as it is not weight bearing, so swimmers need to cross train! What is the payoff from taking calcium and exercising? Strong bones. We have all known older persons who have broken their hips and even younger persons who tend to break bones. Exercise and get your calcium in while you are a teenager, and you won’t be one of them.