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Calcium-Fortified Cereals Help Kids Meet Needs

By Alfredo Flores
December 9, 2002

Scientists at the Children's Nutrition Research Center (CNRC) in Houston, Texas, have found that ready-to-eat cereals fortified with a moderate amount of calcium can help kids meet their calcium needs without decreasing iron absorption.

In 1997, the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, evaluated dietary requirements for calcium and related nutrients. In general, the board recommended higher intakes than previous standards. Fortifying orange juice, cereal and other foods products with calcium has helped Americans meet the academy's recommended calcium levels. Foods are fortified so that each serving provides at least 100 milligrams (mg) of calcium.

Steven A. Abrams led the study, which involved 27 Houston-area children, ages 6 to 9, and was published in the Journal of Pediatrics. In the CNRC study, the children were given two 1-ounce servings of cereal each day for two weeks. One of the servings was eaten at breakfast with milk; the other was eaten at lunch, as a snack, without milk.

Half the children received cereal fortified with 156 mg of calcium per ounce, while the others were given a nonfortified cereal containing 39 mg per ounce. Calcium fortification was done by adding calcium carbonate to the dry-mix cereal before cooking.

At the end of the study, Abrams found that all the children absorbed about the same amount of iron per day. But those who ate the fortified cereal also absorbed about 50 mg more calcium, which is roughly equivalent to drinking an extra 2 ounces of milk. According to Abrams, increasing the amount of one nutrient in the diet can sometimes work against the absorption of others, but not in this case.

The CNRC is operated by Baylor College of Medicine in cooperation with Texas Children's Hospital and the Agricultural Research Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

More details about this research are in the December 2002 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.