How can your baby get enough calcium on a plant-based diet? Don’t worry – there are plenty of options for dairy-free kids. We’ve got you covered in this post.
You hear about the importance of calcium all the time – usually by way of milk and dairy advertisements – so how can your baby get enough of this mineral on a plant-based diet?
Fortunately, dairy is far from the only source of calcium! It’s just that non-dairy sources aren’t advertised so much.
Let’s cover a few basics of calcium and some great non-dairy sources for your baby.
Why is calcium important?
All but 1% of the calcium in the human body is stored in the teeth and skeleton.
It makes sense then, why calcium is an essential mineral for all ages and stages. It’s always flowing to and from the bones and needs to be adequately replenished.
In infancy, calcium plays a particularly large role in proper bone formation and skeletal development. Calcium absorption is high during infancy, and is passively facilitated by the lactose in breast milk or formula.
Beyond bone health, calcium is necessary for allowing your muscles to contract, your heart to beat, and your blood to clot. It does a lot of things for your baby!
We’re sure you’re not surprised to hear from us that you don’t have to give your baby cow’s milk after 12 months if you don’t want to, especially if the main reason is for calcium.
Cow’s milk may not even be the best source of calcium out there. In fact, research shows that consuming too much cow’s milk can actually increase your baby’s risk for iron deficiency, type 1 diabetes, and can be tough on little kidneys.
How much calcium do babies need?
For infants up to six months old, the RDA for calcium is 200 mg per day for both males and females. At this age, your baby will get his or her calcium needs met through breast milk or formula.
At six months, their calcium needs increase to 260 mg until they reach one year old, and then to 700 mg from ages one to three. This is an important time to be introducing calcium-rich foods regularly.
Understanding the recommended amounts is good, but what does this amount of calcium look like? Here are a few examples:
8 ounces (1 cup) of calcium-fortified soy milk = 300 mg
1 cup cooked kale = 100 mg
1 Tbsp blackstrap molasses = 100 mg
1 slice white bread = 75 mg
½ cup kidney beans = 40 mg
1 Tbsp almond butter = 55 mg
15 non-dairy calcium-rich foods for babies
Below are some of the best non-dairy sources of calcium for babies.
Remember to prepare these in an age-appropriate way for your baby (do not feed your baby whole nuts, raw produce, or other choking hazards before they are ready).
This may mean boiling or steaming, blending or pureeing, roasting until soft, and cutting into bite-sized pieces.
- Calcium-set tofu
- Almond butter
- Calcium-fortified plant milks
- Turnip greens
- Calcium-fortified orange juice (should not be introduced until after 12 months)
- Bok choy
- Corn or flour tortillas
- White and whole wheat breads
- Chia seeds
- Beans and lentils
- Blackstrap molasses
Some calcium-rich plant foods, such as spinach, Swiss chard, and rhubarb, contain compounds called oxalates, which inhibit some of their calcium from being absorbed.
Even though these foods shouldn’t be solely relied upon for their calcium content, they’re still excellent sources of other nutrients that are healthy. Just be sure to incorporate enough other calcium-rich, low-oxalate foods in your baby’s diet.
And if your babe isn’t into all the foods all the time, many parents choose to use a multivitamin during times of selective eating. Many children’s multivitamins don’t contain calcium, so be sure to read the nutrition panel if this is a nutrient of concern.
Either way, rest assured that your baby can get enough calcium without dairy if that’s what you choose!
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