KIDS
May 9, 2013

An Overlooked Key to Bone Health

Milk products and the calcium they provide are important for kids' growth. But another nutrient is even more crucial.

Here's some news for conscientious parents who make sure their children drink their milk: Your kids’ bone health depends on more than just calcium. While calcium may be the most widely promoted nutrient for bone health, many other nutrients are also necessary for healthy bones. Deficiencies in them, even with sufficient calcium, can reduce bone density.

The mineral, magnesium, may be just as important as calcium for the health of children’s bones, according to a study presented at the recent Pediatric Academic Societies’ annual meeting. Researchers measured the calcium and magnesium levels of healthy children, ages four to eight years. The children's food intake, as tracked in food diaries kept by their parents, was also analyzed.

Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body. About half of total body magnesium is found in the bones.

Both the amount of magnesium consumed and the amount absorbed predicted how much bone children had. The kids' intake of calcium did not appear to be associated with either bone mineral content or density.

Magnesium has long been known to be a key nutrient in bone health for adults, but there have been few studies that looked at its importance in children. This study suggested that parents need to make sure their children are consuming enough magnesium, as well as calcium, for optimal bone development.

Easy to Find
Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body. About half of total body magnesium is found in the bones. Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, collard greens, and romaine lettuce are rich sources of magnesium because the chlorophyll molecule, which gives green vegetables their color, contains magnesium in its structure.

The four best food sources of magnesium, according to the Produce for Better Health Foundation’s More Matters campaign, are almonds, Brazil nuts, pinto beans, and spinach. Also on the list of good sources are other beans and peas (legumes), nuts, and okra.

Magnesium is also found in foods made with whole grains like bread, crackers, pasta, and breakfast cereals. Refined grains lose their magnesium when the germ and bran are removed, so children should be encouraged to eat whole grain foods rather than those made with refined flours.

Salmon, halibut, shrimp, and tuna are good protein sources of magnesium, while yogurt is a good dairy source. Depending on its “hardness,” tap water can provide magnesium, too. To the delight of some, chocolate and cocoa are rich sources of magnesium. But some magnesium is lost when food is processed, so limiting those sweets is advisable.

Eating a variety of whole grains, legumes, and vegetables (especially dark green leafy vegetables) every day will help provide the recommended intake of magnesium. Dr. Steven A. Abrams, professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and lead author of the study concludes, “We believe it is important for children to have a balanced, healthy diet with good sources of minerals, including both calcium and magnesium.”

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