Non-Dairy Sources of Calcium

Non-Dairy Sources of Calcium

Need dietary calcium but don’t like dairy? Don’t fret. Check out these delicious alternatives.

When you think of calcium, milk and other dairy products probably come to mind first. Dairy is a convenient and concentrated source of this essential mineral, after all. But some people are lactose intolerant and have trouble digesting dairy. And some folks simply do not like milk products.

So what do these people do to get their calcium? Calcium is essential to help form and maintain strong bones and teeth. This important mineral also plays critical roles in regulating heartbeat and blood pressure, among other functions.

Your body cannot make its own calcium, so it must come from the food you eat. If your diet is lacking in calcium, your body will rob it from your bones, raising your risk of osteoporosis. Many Americans, especially women and teen girls, don’t get enough calcium. This puts them at risk for developing osteoporosis later in life.

Alternative calcium sources

There are actually many other good food sources of calcium if you don’t eat dairy products. Plus, some fortified foods (such as orange juice and soy milk) have calcium added to them. One serving can have as much calcium as a glass of milk – about 300 milligrams. A calcium supplement can also help make up for a gap in your diet.

The National Academy of Sciences recommends the following daily levels of calcium:

  • 1,000 mg for those age 19 to 50
  • 1,200 mg for those age 50 or over
  • 1,000 mg for pregnant or lactating adult women

To meet your quota of calcium, check out these nondairy food sources containing this mineral:

Beans/Legumes

Food sourceServing sizeCalcium (mg)
Baked beans, canned1 cup, cooked128
Black or kidney1 cup, cooked47
Great Northern and navy1 cup, cooked121
Pinto1 cup, cooked82
Soy1 cup, cooked175
White1 cup, cooked161
Chickpeas1 cup, cooked80

Nuts and seeds

Almonds2475
Brazil nuts850
Pistachios3838
Sunflower seeds1 ounce33

Seafood

Canned salmon3 ounces150
Canned sardines (with bones)6250
Oysters1 cup195

Vegetables and greens

Greens are also an excellent source of vitamin K, another player in bone health. But keep in mind that spinach, chard and beet greens, though good sources of calcium, also contain oxalic acid. This can interfere with some calcium absorption. These greens are still healthy, so if you enjoy them, keep them in your diet. Just don’t rely on them as your only source of calcium.

Acorn or butternut squash1 cup, baked90
Broccoli1 cup steamed94
Cabbage, Chinese1 cup steamed140
Chicory greens, raw1 cup170
Collards1 cup, steamed148
Dandelion greens1 cup, steamed140
Kale1 cup, steamed90
Mustard greens1 cup, steamed104
Turnip greens, raw1 cup106
Okra1 cup, steamed100

Other nondairy sources

Figs, dried10 figs269
Orange1 medium60
Papaya, rawOne medium72
Orange juice (fortified)8 ounces350
Tofu, firm, with calcium3 oz165
Instant oatmeal1 packet160
Breakfast cereal, fortified1 serving800-1,000

A warning about fortified foods

There are many calcium-fortified foods and beverages on the market, such as juices, cereals, margarines, snack foods and even water. If you are going to use these products, keep in mind the following:

  • Some are not nutritionally equivalent to foods that are naturally rich in calcium.
  • Eating too many fortified foods can easily put you over your daily recommended intake.
  • If you choose a fortified food source, be aware of how much calcium is in the product and try to stay within your daily need.

Ideally, try to get your calcium from naturally calcium-rich foods. Also remember that only 500 mg of calcium can be absorbed at one time, so anything in excess of that (at the same meal) will be wasted.

A final note

Finally, bone health is dependent on many more factors than just calcium. It’s also wise to monitor your intake of caffeine, soda, sodium and alcohol, which may all interfere with calcium absorption.

Most important,consuming adequate vitamin D and performing regular, weight-bearing exercise are also critical for building maximum bone density and strength. Talk to your doctor before you increase your activity level.

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