When you think “calcium,” what foods come to mind? For most, calcium equates to dairy – milk, cheese, and yogurt – and it’s true that these are plentiful sources of calcium. Dairy is a valuable source of protein in the diet, and I recommend it as part of a balanced diet if a client tolerates it well. However, some people eliminate dairy products from their diets because they are noticing an intolerance to various dairy products that results in IBS, or for other reasons, like ethical concerns. If you don’t eat dairy, it is certainly possible to get enough calcium in your diet without taking supplementation.
So, why do we need calcium in the first place? Calcium is essential to the everyday functioning of our bodies. It is required to build healthy bones and teeth, for our muscles to contract, for our blood to clot, and even for our hearts to beat. We lose calcium in our sweat, urine, feces, hair, skin, and nails. If we don’t consume enough, our bodies can take the calcium it needs from our bones, which can in turn make them weak, causing broken bones or osteoporosis. There are some nutrients that can be made by our bodies, but calcium is not one of them. Therefore, we need to obtain calcium from outside sources.
For adults ages 19 – 50, the daily recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for calcium is 1,000 mg. For adults ages 51 – 70, the RDA is 1,000 mg for men and 1,200 mg for women. It’s good to know these numbers, as many food labels only list calcium content in percentages called the Daily Value (or DV). The DV is based on 1,000 mg, so for example, if a food contains 300mg of calcium, the DV would read “30%.”
1 cup of plain yogurt has about 415 mg of calcium
1 cup of milk has about 299 mg of calcium
1.5 ounce cheddar cheese has about 307 mg
4 ounces cottage cheese 105 mg
Since calcium deficiency can be an issue, many non-dairy milks, juices and cereals are fortified with calcium. Soy milk, almond milk and rice milk contain about 300 mg calcium each. Fortified orange juice contains about 261 mg of calcium. Many ready-to-eat cereals are also fortified with calcium ranging anywhere from 100 – 1000 mg per serving. Cheerios have about 112 mg calcium per serving.
Fortification has been shown to increase calcium bioavailability and absorption, but it can actually have a negative impact on iron absorption. If you already have low iron stores or are taking iron supplements, be careful not to consume calcium-fortified products at the same time.
If you want to get enough calcium without relying on calcium-fortified products, there are an array of foods you can add in to your diet that you might not realize are rich in calcium. Consider a can of sardines. Sardines provide about 325 mg of calcium per 3 ounces, which means they actually have more calcium than a cup of milk! The same goes for collard greens; there are 360 mg in 1 cup of frozen collard greens. Other greens rich in calcium include kale (100 mg for 1 cup cooked), turnip greens (100 mg for ½ cup cooked), broccoli (60mg for 1 cup cooked) and bok choy (75mg for 1 cup raw). Tofu is also surprisingly high in calcium; a half cup of tofu contains 253 mg (25% of the DV). Another source of natural calcium is salmon, which has 181 mg in about 3 ounces, about 15-18% of the recommended daily value. Raw chickpeas contain 100 mg for an 80g serving, and one whole natural orange contains about 55 mg.
To recap, here is a list of non-dairy foods that contain calcium:
The point is, you can meet your nutritional needs despite dietary restrictions if you have the right plan in place.
Staying on top of your calcium intake is the best way to ensure you have enough to meet your needs. Keep in mind that there are some factors that can affect the rate of calcium absorption, such as a high sodium diet, high caffeine intake, or alcohol intake. If you are at risk for low calcium levels, be sure to monitor some of these factors that might inhibit your rate of absorption.
Sample dairy-free day with adequate calcium:
2 slices whole wheat toast
1 cup almond milk (300 mg)
½ cup cooked tofu (250 mg)
1 cup brown rice
1 cup raw bok choi (75 mg)
3 ounces salmon (300 mg)
1 cup cooked kale (100 mg)
1 sweet potato
Are you getting enough calcium? Want to learn more about your diet and the nutrients you might be deficient in based on food preferences or dietary restrictions? Give me a call at 954.655.8543, and we can discuss your unique needs.