Calcium is an abundant and vital mineral found in our bodies. The main function of calcium in our diets is to help maintain strong bones and teeth. Almost all the calcium in our bodies is stored in our bones, but our body will sometimes remove calcium as needed for other bodily functions such as to help release hormones, maintain blood vessels, and to build enzymes. When the body begins to take out too much calcium from the bones, when we don’t get enough from our diet, this may lead to a weakening of the bones called osteoporosis. Therefore, it is important to consume enough calcium via diet, so that our body is not forced to access the stored calcium. The daily recommended amount (known as RDI) for calcium for adults is 1,000 mg. Consuming this amount daily may be challenging for some people with lactose intolerance or dairy allergies, as milk, yogurt, and cheese contain a significant amount of calcium. But, there are several dairy free sources that actually have almost as much calcium as dairy, without any of the consequences.
Several vegetables contain a significant amount of dairy free calcium. All of the green leafy vegetables, such as kale, broccoli, and spinach, contain calcium. A cup of broccoli has 180 mg and spinach contains 240 mg per cup. Other vegetables to try: arugula, bok choy, and swiss chard. The only issue with getting all of your calcium from green leafy vegetables is that they are high in oxalates, which can block calcium absorption so it is hard to determine how much is actually absorbed. Try to vary your high calcium foods so that you don’t just rely on vegetables to supply your daily needs.
Fish is a surprising source of dairy free calcium. In order for fish to contain calcium, it must also contain bones. Seven sardines contain about 321 mg of calcium, as they are consumed whole with the bones intact. Canned salmon, which contains small bone fragments, contains 232mg for only ½ a can. Seaweed is also very high in calcium, provides 126 mg per cup.
Nuts and Seeds
Several varieties of nuts and seeds can be great sources of calcium. Chia seeds are amongst the highest in calcium, they provide 179 mg per 28g serving. Not sure how to eat chia seeds? You can sprinkle them on salads or other cold dishes or just add them to tea or water for an extra dose of calcium. Sesame seeds provide 64 mg per tablespoon and Tahini (sesame paste contains 119 mg calcium per ounce. Almonds are also high in calcium, containing 75mg per ounce. An ounce of nuts can provide an excellent filling snack and a great source of dairy free calcium!
For those that have a dairy allergy or are lactose intolerant, there are several beverages considered “milk alternatives” that can be substituted for milk as a source of dairy free calcium. Lactose-free milk is a good alternative for those with lactose intolerance, but would not work for people with a dairy allergy. Soy milk can contain between 200-400mg per cup depending on the brand. Almond milk is also very high in calcium, containing about 200 mg per cup. Even orange juice is calcium fortified, but watch out the sugar content.
If you feel you are not reaching your calcium goals for the day, you may want to consider a supplement. Make sure it is a calcium citrate supplement which is better absorbed than calcium carbonate. But, your body cannot absorb more than 500 mg of calcium at once, so split up your dose if you are aiming for 1,000 mg per day.
Even if you have lactose intolerance or a dairy allergy, with these high-calcium dairy free alternatives it will be easy to get enough calcium daily and maintain strong teeth and bones.