There is an old wives’ tale that children seen eating chalk or small flaky pieces of plaster off the walls were deficient in calcium. However, it appears that it displays a deficiency in zinc or iron. Though calcium deficiency is not life threatening, it can cause great problems, if left neglected for long periods of time and is one of the most common issues amongst growing children.
Calcium is very essential for development of teeth and bones. When there is no intake of calcium through food or supplements, your body will draw calcium from its reserves to carry on with its normal body functions. Consequently, your teeth, gums and bones start to weaken and lose its strength. You will find your child unable to perform his usual physical activity on account of poor strength in his limbs.
Calcium deficiency can be detected when your child develops rickets, which occurs when the bones turn soft on account of calcium and vitamin D deficiency. Rickets is very common among children and it becomes visible when the bones of the legs bend to look like bow legs.
Other symptoms are when your child fractures his bones very easily on account of a mild fall, which is a sign of brittle bones. Stooped posture, pain or tenderness in joints, muscle cramps, loss of appetite and yellowing of teeth are other symptoms.
When you discover your child eating chalk, mud, wall plaster or ash, it is wise to take him to a doctor to get an accurate diagnosis of the true nature of his problem. Eating mud can expose your child to worm infections or ingestion of any other kind of toxic materials. Chalk is not safe either as it contains chemicals that may cause respiratory issues.
Calcium deficiency is of two types. Dietary calcium deficiency can cause yellowing of your teeth, brittle bones, pain in joints and in severe cases, rickets in children and osteoporosis in adults. Hypocalcemia is when the blood has low calcium levels and usually occurs on accounts of over consumption of medications. It is normally found in adults.
Calcium deficiency can be overcome with good wholesome food at home. Dairy products like milk, cheese, yogurt, butter, paneer and buttermilk are very rich sources of calcium. Veggies like green leafy vegetables, soyabeans, ragi (finger millet) and sesame seeds are very rich in calcium.
How can you increase calcium intake in your child
Give your child at least one serving of any leafy vegetable every day (cooked or raw)
Give 2 or 3 glasses of milk every day in any way or form. Milk can be added to fortified cereals, smoothies or ice creams. Curd or yogurt is extremely rich in calcium. Reduce harmful fatty foods as it hinders calcium absorption in your child’s body.
Ensure that your child takes a sunbath in the morning when the sun is out, as its rays are very beneficial for producing vitamin D. Besides, vitamin D allows better absorption of calcium.
Here are a couple of recipes for your child to improve calcium levels in the body.
Spilt Bengal gram lentil – 3 tbsps (soak for a couple of hours before cooking it)
Spinach chopped - 3 cups
Cow peas leaves - ¾ cup
Cumin seeds - ½ tsp
Onions chopped - ½ cup
Potatoes chopped - 1 cup
Egg plant(brinjal)chopped- ½ cup
Ginger/garlic paste - 2 tsps
Chilli powder - ½ tsp
Coriander powder - 2 tsp
Turmeric powder - a pinch
I tbsp oil and salt to taste
Cook the bengal gram lentil in 1 cup of water and keep aside after draining any excess water. In a pan, heat oil and add the cumin seeds. After they crackle, add the onions, potatoes, egg plant and ginger/garlic paste. Sauté for 5 minutes. Then add all the seasonings and sauté for 2-3 minutes again. Add the spinach, cow peas leaves and the cooked lentil and cook it on low heat for another 10 minutes or until the veggies are cooked. After it is cooled off, whisk the mixture well and serve hot with rice.
Ragi (finger millet) pancakes
Finger millet flour - 1 cup
Soya flour (Optional) – 1 tbsp
Sesame seeds – 1 tsp
Onion medium, chopped – 1
Green chillies chopped – 1
Grated ginger – 1 tsp
Cilantro leaves – ½ cup
Salt as required and oil – 2 tsps
Mix together all the ingredients very well in a bowl. Heat a skillet on any flat pan and grease it with oil. Spread a layer of batter to make a pancake. Flip it over and cook the other side till it turns a light golden brown. Serve hot with any chutney or ketchup