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Teen Girls Need More Calcium

Teen girls aren’t likely to be thinking about their risk for osteoporosis, but maybe they should be.  Peak bone density is reached for most women in their early 20s, and what they are eating in their teen years has an enormous impact on the health of their bones later in life.

Calcium is an essential mineral found in dairy products, leafy green vegetables (spinach, mustard greens, collard greens), almonds, tofu, broccoli, green beans, tofu, asparagus, figs, and apricots.  Calcium requirements vary based on need – and the need increases during times of growth, such as during teen growth spurts.

Calcium Requirements by Age (mg/day)

Infants 0-6 months:  210
Infants 6-12 months: 270
Children 1-3 years: 500
Children 4-8 years: 800
Pre-teen 9-13 years: 1300 – 1500
Teen 14-18 years: 1300 – 1500
Adult 19-30 years: 1000
Adult 31-50 years: 1000
Adult 51 + years: 1200 – 1500
Teen pregnancy and lactation: 1300
Adult pregnancy and lactation: 1000

Modified from Health Canada DRI Tables

A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at the intake of calcium in the diet of over 350 teen girls and found that the majority of girls were consuming less than the recommended intake of 1300mg per day.  The average calcium intake was 830mg/day – approximately 65% of the daily recommended intake.  The study looked at the long term effects of supplementing teenage girls with calcium (supplementing with an additional 670mg/day to obtain a daily calcium intake of 1500mg/day) and found that giving teen girls calcium during their teen growth spurt produced higher bone mineral density, making bones bigger and stronger.

The researchers in this study expect that the benefits of calcium supplementation during the teen years will benefit these women into late adulthood, preventing osteoporosis.  Several years of supplementation (ideally from 9-19 years of age) is necessary to have the maximum positive impact.

This study also found that taller girls benefit from higher levels of calcium (as they will have longer bones to support their height).

Supplementing with Calcium

The first step in meeting the calcium needs of teen girls is to include calcium rich foods in the diet.  Below is a list of some of the highest food sources of calcium.  Since dairy is a common source of calcium, special care must be taken by vegans to ensure they are getting enough calcium.

Calcium supplements should be used in teen girls to make sure optimal levels of calcium are achieved.  Calcium should be taken with vitamin D to improve absorption of calcium.

Another way teen girls (and all women) can support healthy bones later in life is by engaging in weight-bearing physical activity several times per week.

Food Sources of Calcium

Gruyere cheese (3oz) 860mg
Mozzarella cheese (3oz) 621mg
Cheddar cheese (3oz) 525mg
Turnip greens (1 cup, cooked) 492mg
Collard greens (1 cup, cooked) 357mg
Yogurt (1 cup) 345mg
Sesame seeds (1/4 cup) 340mg
Soy milk (fortified, 1 cup) 300mg
Cow milk (1 cup) 300mg
Spinach (1 cup, cooked) 245mg
Tofu (2/3 cup) 190mg
Broccoli (1 cup, cooked) 180mg
Blackstrap molasses (1 tbsp) 137mg
Almonds (1/4 cup) 92mg

For a list of vegan calcium sources, check out this article: Vegan Calcium Sources.

Broccoli is a vegan source of calcium

The teen years are a time of immense growth and development.  Don’t forget that your bones are growing too.  Support your bones, now and later in life, by consuming adequate calcium in your teens.


Health Canada: Dietary Reference Intakes Tables

Velimir Matkovic, Prem K Goel, Nancy E Badenhop-Stevens, et. al.  Calcium Supplementation and Bone Mineral Density in Females from Childhood to Young Adulthood: a Randomized Controlled Trial.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  2005; 81: 175-88.

Marz, Russell.  Medical Nutrition from Marz.  2nd Ed.  1997.

Lisa Watson

Dr. Lisa Watson is a Naturopathic Doctor practicing in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She is a passionate writer and speaker and encourages her patients and readers to embrace their full, amazing, health potential. You can follow Dr. Watson on twitter at @drlisawatson or contact her at

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