Drinking milk and strong bones go hand in hand; or at least that has been drilled into our heads from early childhood. However, a recent study presented at the Pediatric Academic Studies annual meeting this spring suggests that calcium might not be the only important nutrient needed for bone health. Which is great! Some of my favorite foods are rich in magnesium. Bananas! Halibut! Dark chocolate! But maybe this means we can go easy on the glass of milk with dinner convention?
With all the warnings about calcium intake for our babies, the vitamin must still be the most important factor in childhood bone density, right?
Actually, no. With some exceptions, calcium might not be as important as first thought; and certainly not as important as magnesium.
“Lots of nutrients are key for children to have healthy bones. One of these appears to be magnesium,” said lead author Steven A. Abrams MD, FAAP, professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “Calcium is important, but, except for those children and adolescents with very low intakes, may not be more important than magnesium.”
For this study, 63 children between the ages of four and eight were recruited. To participate the children had to be in good health and on no mineral or vitamins of any kind. They (or more likely their parents, I surmise, since the kids are under the age of eight) were asked to keep a detailed food diary throughout the project. Each child was kept at a hospital overnight two times so their magnesium and calcium levels could be checked.
According to the Houston study, magnesium-rich foods such as salmon, bran, certain seeds, almonds, cashews and soy beans might be just as important, if not more so than dairy products. While the study concluded that the amount of magnesium consumed and absorbed into the body was an important predictor of bone density, dietary calcium intake, on the other hand, was not associated significantly with either density or bone content.
According to Dr. Abrams “We believe it is important for children to have a balanced, healthy diet with good sources of minerals, including both calcium and magnesium.”
There is increasing evidence that dairy products aren’t the best source of calcium, and that in order to circumvent the possible increased risks of prostate and ovarian cancer, we should actually be limiting out dairy consumption.
Now my head is spinning. Foods like soy milk, collard greens and bok choy are all excellent sources of not only calcium, but also vitamin D, which make each a better choice than your average dairy product. But I have a feeling that until ALL these foods can be mixed in chocolate syrup or made into an creamy frozen food isle treat that kids love so much, they just won’t get the attention that dairy enjoys.