7 Tips for Getting Enough Calcium Without Dairy

non dairy calcium foods

Everyone thinks we have to get our calcium from milk and milk products. That’s been beat into our heads, but I’m one of a growing number of physicians who believe that we’re much better off getting our calcium from other sources.

For a good, scientifically based summary of why milk and cheese aren’t such good calcium options, read what the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and Harvard School of Public Health have to say.

Dairy doesn’t hold a monopoly on calcium. It’s only the industry’s marketing tactics that make us think so. Plants contain calcium, particularly beans and other legumes as well as green leafy vegetables. High levels of vitamin K in the leafy greens work synergistically with calcium to increase bone strength.

The Nurses’ Health Study and others have shown us that women getting sufficient vitamin K can reduce their risk of hip fracture by a almost a third. In fact, nurses eating at least one serving of lettuce or other green, leafy vegetable every day cut their risk of breaking a hip in half.

sauteed greens

Great leafy green sources of calcium include kale, collard greens, dandelion greens, mustard greens, and turnip greens. If you’re tired of boiling and eating these things plain, try a blended shake of kale mixed with pears, oranges and bananas. Or you can mix collards with apples or any other fruit or herb. Dandelion greens taste good mixed with a little mint and melon. Experimentation with these blended creations can be a lot of fun.

Calcium is also found in spinach and Swiss chard, but they contain oxalic acid that can combine with calcium to form calcium oxalate. Binding to oxalate decreases the amount of calcium available to be used by the body.

That doesn’t mean spinach and Swiss chard don’t provide any calcium at all, it’s just that it’s not as much as one would imagine when looking at their total calcium content.Iceberg lettuce has calcium, too, just not as much as darker leafy greens. A whole head of iceberg lettuce contains about a 100 mg of calcium compared to the same amount in only a cup of boiled fresh kale.

brocolli

Here’s a list of whole natural foods that contain calcium.
Keep in mind it’s just a partial list.

NATURAL FOODS HIGH IN CALCIUM

Nutrient data from USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Releases 27
Collard greens, 1 cup cooked266 mg
Soybeans, 1 cup green lightly boiled as edamame261 mg
Pak-choi cabbage, 1 cup cooked158 mg
Dandelion greens, 1 cup cooked from fresh147 mg
White beans, 1 cup cooked120 mg
Mustard greens, 1 cup cooked from fresh104 mg
Iceberg lettuce, 1 head, raw97 mg
Kale, 1 cup cooked from fresh94 mg
Peas, 1 cup cooked from frozen94 mg
Tomato paste, canned, 1 cup94 mg
Chickpeas, 1 cup cooked80 mg
Pinto beans, 1 cup cooked79 mg
Okra, 1 cup cooked77 mg
Raisins, 1 cup73 mg
Almonds, 24 nuts70 mg
Dates, 1 cup69 mg
Broccoli, 1 cup cooked,61 mg
Sweet potato baked in the skin55 mg
Green beens, 1 cup cooked55 mg
Orange, one medium52 mg
Kidney beans, 1 cup cooked50 mg
Squash, 1 cup cooked49 mg
Cucumber with peel, one large48 mg
Celery, 1 cup, raw48 mg
Cabbage, 1 cup cooked47 mg
Black beans, 1 cup cooked46 mg
Onions, 1 cup cooked46 mg

So you can see that plenty of foods have calcium, and a balanced nutritious diet of a variety of fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes and nuts can provide all that we need without any dairy at all.

As I’ve noted before, I’m not vegan, and I eat a little dairy every once in awhile. That’s in keeping with the advice of the Yoga texts. I try to keep it to a minimum though, and I don’t let myself feel corralled into drinking milk or eating lots of cheese or yogurt simply to get more calcium.

beans

If you feel your diet isn’t supplying enough calcium from whole, natural foods, there are fortified products on the market like orange juice, breakfast cereals, and soy milk.

And don’t forget how important it is to have vitamin D in your system so the body can absorb and use calcium. Ten to twenty minutes a day in the sun with much of the body exposed is all you need. Of course, how much time is needed depends on the time of day (around noon maximizes vitamin D production because of the angle of the sun), the season of the year, the latitude of your home, your age, and the darkness of your skin.

Skin cancer is still an issue with overdoing sun exposure, so be sure to find the balance that is right for you. No sun isn’t good. Neither is too much. Never let yourself burn. It’s burning that is most associated with fatal skin cancers.

7 Tips for Increasing Calcium Intake

  1. Once a week, eat a bowl of edamame instead of one of popcorn while watching a movie. You can find frozen packages in the freezer section of most large grocery stores, even Walmart. In 1 ½ cups of edamame, there’s 392 mg of calcium – more than in a cup of milk!
  2. Make a smoothie every day for breakfast. Use a blender to mix 2 cups of fresh kale with an orange, a pear, and a banana. That’s a nutritious snack packed with vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that supplies 102 mg of calcium.
  3. Eat a raw salad every day. One quarter of a head of iceberg lettuce with  ½ cup of arugula, 1 cucumber, 1 large tomato, 10 sprigs of parsley, and the juice of one lemon mixed with some extra virgin olive oil provides 123 mg of calcium.
  4. Try chia seeds. You can purchase them from most health foods stores and they can be found online. Make a little pudding with 3 tablespoons of seeds mixed with 6 tablespoons of apple juice or water and a dash of cinnamon. You can add a little honey or Stevia if you need to make it sweet. Let it soak for about half an hour. This tasty snack provides 180 mg of calcium plus 11 grams of fiber, 4 grams of complete protein, and a whopping 5000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids.
  5. Add a tablespoon of celery seeds to soups, stews, or any recipe. They’ll make your dish tasty while increasing the calcium content by 115 mg.
  6. Similarly, adding two tablespoons of toasted sesame seeds to a stir fry or baked dish adds 176 mg of calcium.
  7. Flaxseeds are another great source of omega-3 fatty acids. In addition, they’re high in calcium. Two tablespoons added to breakfast muesli or other cereal in the morning supplies an additional 52 mg.

References:

Feskanich D, Weber P, Willett WC, Rockett H, Booth SL, Colditz GA. Vitamin K intake and hip fractures in women: a prospective study. Am J Clin Nutr.1999; 69:74–79.
Booth SL, Tucker KL, Chen H, et al. Dietary vitamin K intakes are associated with hip fracture but not with bone mineral density in elderly men and women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000; 71:1201–08.
Booth SL, Broe KE, Gagnon DR, et al. Vitamin K intake and bone mineral density in women and men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003; 77(2):512-16.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *