You probably heard "drink your milk" all the time from your parents when you were a kid, and you knew it was good for you. But now you may opt for sodas or sports drinks, and other than adding a splash to your morning Wheaties, you don't give much thought to milk.
But your parents were right to make you drink milk when you were little. It's loaded with calcium, a mineral vital for building strong bones and teeth.
Bones grow rapidly during adolescence, and teens need enough calcium to build strong bones and fight bone loss later in life. But many don't get the recommended daily amount of calcium. In addition, people who smoke or drink soda, caffeinated beverages, or alcohol may get even less calcium because those substances interfere with the way the body absorbs and uses calcium.
Bone calcium begins to decrease in young adulthood and people gradually lose bone density as they age — particularly women. Teens, especially girls, whose diets don't provide the nutrients to build bones to their maximum potential are at greater risk of developing the bone disease osteoporosis, which increases the risk of fractures from weakened bones.
Calcium also plays an important role in muscle contraction, transmitting messages through the nerves, and the release of hormones. If people aren't getting enough calcium in their diet, the body takes calcium from the bones to ensure normal cell function, which can lead to weakened bones.
If you got enough calcium and physical activity when you were a kid and continue to do so as a teen, you'll enter your adult years with the strongest bones possible.
Teen guys and girls need 1,300 mg (milligrams) of calcium each day.
Get it from:
Looking for ways to up your dietary calcium intake? Here are some easy ones:
Teens who are lactose intolerant don't have enough of the intestinal enzyme lactase that helps digest the sugar (lactose) in dairy products, and may have gas, bloating, cramps, or diarrhea after drinking milk or eating dairy products.
Fortunately, low-lactose and lactose-free dairy products are readily available, as are lactase drops that can be added to dairy products and tablets that can be taken to make dairy products tolerable. Hard, aged cheeses (such as cheddar) are also lower in lactose, and yogurts that contain active cultures are easier to digest and much less likely to cause lactose problems.
It can be a challenge to get enough calcium in a vegetarian diet that does not include dairy, but you can enjoy good sources of calcium such as dark green, leafy vegetables, broccoli, chickpeas, and calcium-fortified products, including orange juice, soy and rice drinks, and cereals.
Although it's best to get the calcium you need through a calcium-rich diet, sometimes it may not be possible. Discuss calcium supplements with your doctor if you're concerned that you're not getting enough.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: September 2014
|U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) The FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, our nation's food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation.|
|Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Offering nutrition information, resources, and access to registered dietitians.|
|ChooseMyPlate.gov ChooseMyPlate.gov provides practical information on how to follow the U.S. government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It includes resources and tools to help families lead healthier lives.|
|Food Labels Look at any packaged food and you'll see the food label. This nutrition facts label gives the lowdown on everything from calories to cholesterol. Read more about food labels.|
|Vitamin Chart Your body needs vitamins to work properly. They boost the immune system, are essential for normal growth and development, and help cells and organs do their jobs.|
|Mineral Chart Your body needs minerals to work properly. They boost the immune system, are essential for normal growth and development, and help cells and organs do their jobs.|
|Soy Foods and Health You may have heard about soy foods in the news, including claims that soy prevents diseases such as cancer and heart disease. So what is the story on soy?|
|Vitamins and Minerals Vitamins and minerals are nutrients that the body needs to work properly. They boost the immune system, promote normal growth and development, and help cells and organs do their jobs.|
|Smart Supermarket Shopping You don't need to be a dietitian to figure out how to make healthy food choices. Before grabbing a shopping cart and heading for the aisles, read this article to make grocery shopping a snap.|
|Nutrition & Fitness Center Visit our nutrition and fitness center for teens to get information and advice on food, exercise, and sports.|
|Vitamin D Vitamin D has been called the new "wonder vitamin," but most teens aren't getting enough. Find out why vitamin D is important and how to get the right amount.|
|Lactose Intolerance If you have lactose intolerance, you're not alone. Millions of Americans have the condition. Check out these tips on dealing with lactose intolerance.|
|Bones, Muscles, and Joints Our bones, muscles, and joints form our musculoskeletal system and enable us to do everyday physical activities.|
|Why Exercise Is Wise Getting the right amount of exercise can rev up your energy levels and even help you to feel better emotionally. Find out why.|
|Strength Training Is working out with weights safe for teens? The best way to build muscle tone and definition is to combine aerobic and flexibility exercises with the right kind of strength training.|
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