Calcium is important for bone growth and healthy teeth but also improves health in other areas such as blood pressure, heart health and weight. The daily recommended intake is 1000 mg. for men and 1200 mg. for women. That equates to about four 8 oz. glasses of milk a day.
Dairy is a great source of calcium and also contains Vitamin D and phosphorus, but if you can’t eat dairy or are avoiding it, there are plenty of other ways to get your calcium in, along with the nutrients that help your body absorb it like Vitamin D, Vitamins K1 and K2, magnesium and phosphorus. In fact, your body isn’t able to absorb all the calcium available in foods without the presence of these other nutrients.
Here are some great non-dairy sources of calcium:
- Tofu, edamame and other soy products
- Leafy greens like Chinese cabbage, kale, bok choy, collard, turnip and mustard greens
- Canned fish (salmon, sardines)
- White beans
- Blackstrap molasses
- Sesame seeds
Nutrients that help calcium absorption:
- Vitamin D is found in fatty fish and fortified milks both dairy and non-dairy.
- Vitamin K1 is found in dark green leafy vegetables.
- Vitamin K2 is found in grass-fed meat and certain fermented foods such as natto.
- Magnesium is found in avocados, dark chocolate, fatty fish, green leafy vegetables.
- Phosphorus is found in protein foods, chocolate and whole grains.
- It’s also important to note that too much salt, alcohol, tobacco, soda and caffeine impede calcium absorption.
How much of these calcium-rich foods do you need to eat in a day to get the recommended amount? You could eat 8 cups of cooked bok choy, or to spread it out over different foods, you could try a daily menu like: 4 cups of green leafy vegetables + 4 oz. of canned salmon + ½ cup of tofu + ½ cup white beans + ¼ cup kelp + handful of almonds + an orange. Not bad, right?
But if it’s hard to plan that much calcium-rich food into your diet, you could also take a calcium supplement. Calcium supplements, however, are not used by your body as well as food sources and raise your risk of calcification of your arteries and forming kidney stones. Research indicates that food sources of calcium do not increase those risks unless you have a very high calcium intake (over 2000 mg. a day). If you’re already eating foods containing calcium or calcium-fortified foods, taking calcium supplements can easily get you to the upper limit.
As you can see, it’s very doable to achieve your daily recommended dose of calcium without dairy. An added bonus is that non-dairy sources of calcium can be healthier since they are also sources of other vitamins, minerals and fiber.
What has been your experience with eating enough calcium? Let us know in the comments below!