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:
|Food source||Serving size||Calcium (mg)|
|Baked beans, canned||1 cup, cooked||128|
|Black or kidney||1 cup, cooked||47|
|Great Northern and navy||1 cup, cooked||121|
|Pinto||1 cup, cooked||82|
|Soy||1 cup, cooked||175|
|White||1 cup, cooked||161|
|Chickpeas||1 cup, cooked||80|
Nuts and seeds
|Sunflower seeds||1 ounce||33|
|Canned salmon||3 ounces||150|
|Canned sardines (with bones)||6||250|
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 squash||1 cup, baked||90|
|Broccoli||1 cup steamed||94|
|Cabbage, Chinese||1 cup steamed||140|
|Chicory greens, raw||1 cup||170|
|Collards||1 cup, steamed||148|
|Dandelion greens||1 cup, steamed||140|
|Kale||1 cup, steamed||90|
|Mustard greens||1 cup, steamed||104|
|Turnip greens, raw||1 cup||106|
|Okra||1 cup, steamed||100|
Other nondairy sources
|Figs, dried||10 figs||269|
|Papaya, raw||One medium||72|
|Orange juice (fortified)||8 ounces||350|
|Tofu, firm, with calcium||3 oz||165|
|Instant oatmeal||1 packet||160|
|Breakfast cereal, fortified||1 serving||800-1,000|
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.