Getting Calcium Without Dairy

Whether you are vegan, lactose intolerant, or just simply don’t enjoy consuming dairy products, one of the primary questions in terms of diet is how to get enough calcium?

Calcium is the mineral predominantly needed to maintain healthy bones and teeth structure, but it also contributes to other functions such as blood clotting and nerve cell transmission. The body gets the calcium it needs either through consuming foods that contain the mineral, or by pulling it from the bones when the blood levels of calcium drop too low.   The latter way can eventually result in osteoporosis, which is why it is essential that adequate levels of calcium are consumed through the diet.  This is one of the main reasons that people who don’t consume dairy products, which contain high levels of calcium, are often questioned about how they get enough calcium.

While I am not fully vegan myself, I must point out that one of the reasons this question is so ubiquitous among people that can’t/don’t consume dairy is because we are brainwashed, largely as a result of dairy companies, to think that milk is the only way to consume enough calcium.

However, studies have actually shown that milk isn’t necessarily the best way for the body to obtain calcium.  A Harvard Nurses Study showed that the high protein content in milk leaches calcium from our body, and actually increases heavy milk drinkers’ risk of getting osteoporosis.  Presumably not coincidental, the Western world, which happens to be an area that consumes the most amount of dairy, also happens to have the highest rates of osteoporosis.

The dairy industry spends $300 million annually on endorsing their products and putting out those catchy “Got Milk?” commercials boasting of milk as the preferential source of calcium, but what they fail to point out is the fact that only 30% of the calcium in milk actually gets absorbed.  They’ve even found themselves a niche in the food pyramid, largely because of the money they’ve spent, not because dairy is essential in our everyday diets.  In fact, many dairy products are heavy in saturated fat, cholesterol, hormones, and antibiotics.  Some studies have actually shown a link between dairy and Type 1 Diabetes.

While I am not going to sit here and persuade people to become vegan or stop consuming milk, I simply want to point out that there are tons of other sources to obtain calcium, many of which are even superior to dairy products.  Take a look at the list below to learn about some of the best non-dairy sources of calcium.

  • Cooked greens:  Greens such as kale, spinach, and collards are wonderful natural sources of calcium (and a heck of a lot of other nutrients).  A half cup of cooked spinach contains roughly 12% of the recommended daily value of calcium, and a cup of cooked kale has 9% DV.
  • Tofu:  A half cup of tofu can contain as much as 20% of your DV of calcium.  Check the package to make sure that the tofu was made with calcium sulfate.
  • Calcium-fortified products:  Beverages such as orange juice and soymilk that are fortified with calcium make great non-dairy sources of calcium.  A serving of fortified orange juice typically contains between 20-26% DV of calcium, while a serving of soy milk can contain as much as 50% of your DV.
  • Canned fish:  Since canned fish is typically packaged with the bones, it makes a great source of calcium (although, obviously this source is not for vegans).  Three ounces of canned salmon contains 18% DV, while three ounces of sardines contains 32% DV of calcium.

There are tons of other foods that contain significant but smaller amounts of calcium of which can all add up by the end of the day.  Non-dairy foods such as broccoli, cabbage, peas, almonds, and a variety of beans all naturally contain calcium.  So if your body can’t handle any dairy products or you are simply looking to cut back on milk for other reasons, such as the ones I mentioned earlier, there are other options for obtaining enough calcium.  Cows‘ milk, specifically produced for young calves, is not required in the human diet.  The nutrients in cows’ milk are tailored to little cows, not humans.  There are plenty of other foods that actually prove to be more suitable for humans, so if you can’t or don’t want to drink milk, don’t panic.

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    April 28, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    It’s also worth pointing out that many greens have a lot of iron. I’m vegan, and a lot people ask me about how I get enough iron. I eat a lot of spinach, as well as other iron rich foods like lentils. And I drink at least a cup of the aforementioned orange juice to help with iron absorption.

    • Reply
      April 28, 2010 at 4:57 pm

      This is true, but don’t forget that calcium inhibits iron absorption. This is also the problem with iron fortified cereals, and then people adding milk, which has calcium. The vitamin C, like you mentioned, is what helps with the iron absorption, but again, if fortified with calcium, this is a problem for iron absorption.

  • Reply
    April 28, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    “Beans and Greens” is how I remember : )

  • Reply
    Teenagers should consume at least 1200 milligrams of calcium per day….?
    April 28, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    […] Getting Calcium Without Dairy « Food-Fitness-FreshAir […]

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    April 28, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    Perfect timing! Ive been really worried that Im not getting enough calcium in my diet. Really, I get loads but Im a born worrier I cant help it. You just saved me an awful lot of anxiety 🙂

  • Reply
    Simply Life
    April 28, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    This is great to know! I just read that about the US have higher rates of osteoporosis – crazy! You say cooked greens -would there be more or less calcium if consumed raw?

  • Reply
    April 28, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    Great post! I love tofu and soy products but I have been hearing so many conflicting things about it…I will enjoy it in moderation =)

  • Reply
    Corinne Dobbas
    April 28, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    Very interesting post–the question of dairy related to osteoporosis and CA uptake fascinates me–the debate is definitely on! I don’t particularly like dairy besides yogurt and some cheeses, so I make sure to always eat other CA-rich foods, as you’ve mentioned, and to take a supplement 😀 Good stuff!

  • Reply
    The Candid RD
    April 28, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    I agree that too much dairy is a problem, but if you stick within the 3 serving guideline, I think it plays an integral role in a healthy and balanced diet. IN fact studies link dairy products to decreased risk of cancers, just as often as they link too much to increased risk for cancer. I would never give up my dairy, nor would I suggest it to anyone. I do, however, I agree that you can live a health lifestyle without it, for sure. I eat soy yogurt all the time, and lovvvve it. We just have to remember that these studies that link certain foods/nutrients to diseases are usually using mega doses, which may not be so common,

  • Reply
    April 29, 2010 at 10:41 am

    Great post! I have fears of osteoporosis – my mom has it and as a child, I was given very little milk (drs. though I was allergic).

    I take a calcium supplement daily but have really tried to increase my consumption of yogurt, enriched rice milk and dark leafy greens.

    I have been reading so much about the benefits of sardines – but can’t stand the look of them in a can – do you have any recipes that use sardines – not whole?

  • Reply
    May 3, 2010 at 6:02 am

    Great information! I hate that this is the case, but it’s important for people to know!

  • Reply
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