We have heard it before and we’re still hearing it now: Calcium is the key building block for strong bones and teeth. From infancy to adulthood, milk and other calcium-rich foods have always been a must-have nutrient in the diet. It is one which children can not afford to be lacking in.

Nothing beats the role of calcium in bone building. The reason is that 90% of this mineral in the body is deposited as calcium phosphate salts in the bones which largely make up the bone’s density. Ensuring that your child has adequate calcium intake allows more sediments of this mineral to be laid compact inside his bones, making his soft bones harder and stronger, thus protecting him from traumatic fractures. These mineral deposits also serve as inert reserves of calcium which can easily be metabolized by the body, in cases of low calcium level in blood.

Apart from this bone storing ability of calcium, this mineral has also other vital roles to ensure normal cell functions. Calcium protects your child’s health in other important ways, too. Here is what this amazing mineral can do for your child:

1. Calcium plays an important role in muscle contraction.
Sufficient supply of calcium in blood helps heart muscles and muscles of the blood vessels do their work of contracting and relaxing, thus protecting the cardiovascular system. But if blood calcium level is low, smooth muscles of the arteries become constricted, thereby elevating blood pressure. Likewise, calcium shortage will also cause skeletal muscles to abnormally contract, making your child physically weak and less active.

2. Calcium is involve in the transmission of nerve impulses
Calcium is a secondary messenger of nerve impulses through anywhere in the body – be it in the brain, heart, and skeletal muscles. Absence or shortage of calcium in these vital organs will cause them to malfunction, and cause life-threatening conditions.

3. Calcium is essential in the release of hormones
Hormones (e.g. growth hormone) are chemical messengers that ensure normal functioning of the body. Their release into the circulation is partly controlled by calcium.

These three vital functions of calcium necessitate an ample supply of calcium in the blood. If found to be low, like when your child is not getting enough calcium from his diet, his calcium reserves in the bone will be utilized. This is not good because it will weaken the bones, putting him at high risk for a bone-softening disease called rickets. Rickets manifest as severe bowing of the legs, poor growth, and sometimes muscle pain and weakness.

Hence, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urged kids and teens to get more calcium from diet, like milk and dairy foods, which are the leading sources of calcium. AAP recommends that children aging 4 to 8 years old should drink three 8-ounce glasses of milk per day, and four 8-10 ounce glasses of milk per day for adolescents. Other sources of calcium are calcium-fortified orange juice, tofu-fortified with calcium, yogurt, cheese, white and white beans, almonds, and cooked broccoli.

Though poorly understood, weight-bearing stress increases the calcium deposition in bones. Thus, to build strong bones in your child, encourage him to do weight bearing exercise such as running, walking or jumping rope. Also, vitamin D is essential in calcium absorption in the gut. Although this vitamin is made by the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight, it is best to supplement this vitamin in your child’s diet by giving fish and egg yolks.

Most of all, to effectively promote a calcium-rich diet in your child, you should act as role model. You should consume dairy products and other foods high in the nutrient, for your child to imitate. Besides, you could use the calcium and enjoy the benefits, too!