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Unless otherwise noted, all recipes on this blog are free of gluten, peanuts, soy, corn, tomatoes, potatoes, shellfish, cane sugar, oranges, and yeast. Most recipes are also free of egg, dairy, and tree nuts (if used, reliable substitutions will be provided for these when possible). Check out my recipe index for a full list of recipes by category. 

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Monday
Feb072011

Beyond Milk: Dairy-Free Sources of Calcium

Do you know that 2 cups of cooked kale has more calcium than a 1/2 cup of milk?

The government recommendation for adults ages 19-50 is 1000 mg of calcium per day. One cup of milk has 296 mg, but there are plenty of reasons you might not to drink milk, from personal preference to medical reasons.  If you avoid dairy due to intolerance or allergy, you may think that you don't have very many options to get adequate calcium. How wrong you are! A diverse diet of whole foods provides endless ways to get easily absorbable calcium, without having to take supplements.  

Maximizing Calcium Absorption

These suggestions are adapted from World's Healthiest Foods:

  • Vitamin D accelerates the absorption of calcium from the gastrointestinal tract.  Fish oil, cod liver oil, salmon, tuna, sardines, liquid and pill vitamin D supplements, and various non-dairy milks fortified with D are good ways to get vitamin D in your diet.
  • High consumption of potassium reduces the urinary excretion of calcium.  To learn more about dietary sources of potassium, check out this post. 
  • High intakes of sodium, caffeine, or protein cause an increase in the urinary excretion of calcium.
  • Certain types of dietary fiber like the fiber found in wheat and oat bran, may interfere with calcium absorption by decreasing transit time (the amount of time it takes for digested foods to move through the intestines), limiting the amount of time during digestion for calcium to be absorbed. Dietary fiber also stimulates the proliferation of "friendly" bacteria in the gut, which bind calcium and make it less available for absorption.
  • Phytic acid, found in whole grains, seeds, nuts, and legumes, can bind to calcium to form and insoluble complex, thereby decreasing the absorption of calcium.  To reduce phytic acid content in these foods, soak your grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes before consuming. 
  • Oxalic acid, found in spinach, beets, celery, pecans, peanuts, tea and cocoa, can bind to calcium and form an insoluble complex that is excreted in the feces. While research studies confirm the ability of phytic acid and oxalic acid in foods to lower availability of calcium, the decrease in available calcium is relatively small. 

Chickpeas pack 105 mg of calcium per cooked cup

High Calcium Foods

By eating a varied diet of vegetables, fruits, spices, nuts, and fish, you can get ample calcium in your diet without dairy and without nutritional supplements.

  • 325 mg - Sardines with bones (3 oz) ⇒ Tip: I love Crown Prince Olive Oil-Packed Sardines! 
  • 181 mg - Canned Salmon with bones (3 oz) 
  • 357 mg - Collards (1 cup, cooked)
  • 291 mg - Spinach (1 cup, cooked)
  • 260 mg - Açai Berry Powder (100 grams)
  • 249 mg - Turnip Greens (1 cup, cooked)
  • 192 mg - Soybeans (edamame) (1/2 cup, cooked)
  • 176 mg - Okra (1 cup, cooked)
  • 175 mg - Sesame seeds (2 Tbsp)
  • 162 mg - Almonds (1/2 cup)
  • 137 mg - Blackstrap Molasses (1 Tbsp) ⇒ Also extremely high in potassium!
  • 136 mg - Kelp/Kombu (1 cup)
  • 130 mg - Navy Beans (1 cup, cooked)
  • 126 mg - Tahini (2 Tbsp)
  • 120 mg - Black beans (1 cup, cooked)
  • 105 mg - Chickpeas (1 cup, cooked)
  • 102 mg - Swiss chard (1 cup, cooked)
  • 100 mg - Mustard Greens (1/2 cup, cooked)
  • 94 mg - Kale (1 cup, cooked)
  • 90 mg - Brazil Nuts (2 oz/12 nuts)
  • 80 mg - Oysters (3 oz)
  • 70 mg - Dried Apricots (1 cup) ⇒ Also extremely high in potassium!
  • 63 mg - Basil, dried (2 tsp)
  • 57 mg - Carrot juice (1 cup)
  • 55 mg - Egg (1 whole egg, cooked)
  • 55 mg - Artichoke (1 medium, cooked)
  • 55 mg - Green Beans (1 cup, cooked)
  • 55 mg - Cinnamon (2 tsp, ground)
  • 54 mg - Thyme (2 tsp, dried)
  • 52 mg - Flax seeds (2 Tbsp)
  • 52 mg - Orange (1 medium)
  • 50 mg - Broccoli (1 cup, cooked)
  • 50 mg - Green Chilies (1 cup)
  • 48 mg - Summer Squash (1 cup, cooked)
  • 47 mg - Oregano, dried (2 tsp)
  • 46 mg - Cabbage (1 cup, cooked)
  • 45 mg - Celery (1 cup)
  • 44 mg - Beet (1 cup)
  • 42 mg - Carrot (1 cup, raw)
  • 42 mg - Fennel (1 cup, raw)
  • 40 mg - Tofu (1 cup)
  • 40 mg - Romaine lettuce (2 cups)

Look at all those amazing ways to get calcium!

Other honorable mention for calcium dense foods are cauliflower, sweet potato, alfalfa sprouts, asparagus, eggplant, garlic, butter head lettuce, edible mushrooms, cloves, onion, peas, tomato, potato, gingerroot, oregano, parsley, rosemary, apples and apple juice, cranberries, cherries, pineapple, grapes, dried banana, blueberries, goji berries, and strawberries.

Cabbage is a great source of calcium that is easy to use in a variety of raw, cooked, and fermented recipes

Do the Math

Here is a sample of a dairy-free day that is rich in calcium.  By choosing the right combination of nourishing, high calcium foods, you will easily get over 1000 mg of calcium per day. 

Breakfast

Option 1: 1 cooked sweet potato (23 mg) + 2 Tbsp sesame tahini (126 mg) + 1 tsp ground cinnamon (25 mg) = approx 173 mg

Option 2: 1 cup cooked gluten-free oatmeal (19 mg) + 2 Tbsp ground flax seeds (52 mg) + 1/4 cup chopped apricots (35 mg) + 1 tsp ground cinnamon (25 mg) = approx 131 mg

Lunch

 2 cups romaine lettuce (40 mg) + 1/2 cup thinly sliced fennel (22 mg) + 1/2 cup shredded carrot (30 mg) + 3 oz sardines with bones (325 mg) + lemon juice and olive oil =421 mg calcium

Snacks:

1/2 cup almonds (162 mg) + 1 cup carrot juice (54 mg) = 216 mg calcium

1 cup celery sticks (45 mg) + 1/4 cup chickpea hummus (approx 30 mg) = 75 mg calcium

Dinner:

1 cup navy beans (130 mg) stewed with oregano (25 mg) and garlic, 1 cup steamed broccoli (50 mg) with flax oil and 1 Tbsp ground flax seed (25 mg) + 1/4 cup sauerkraut (25 mg) + 1/2 cup roasted beets (22 mg) with thyme (25 mg) = 302 mg

Total: approximately 1140-1187 mg, depending on breakfast options

Pretty simple, right?

Green beans and sesame seeds have lots of calcium!

Calcium-Rich Recipes

Here are some recipe from my blog that are rich in calcium:

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References (4)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (4)

Perfect, perfect timing! I've been on calcium supplements for years but would really like to know I"m eating more "real" calcium. I've been eating lots of sardines and canned salmon lately but want to move away from animal products, so this list is wonderfull helpful. Happily, several things here are already constants in my kitchen (tahini, blackstrap molasses, almonds), but you've given my a myriad new ideas too. Hurrah!

February 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHannah

I love this post. So helpful!
I've been going through the cookbook "Clean Food" by Terry Walters and she mentions that cooking your beans and grains with kombu makes them easier to digest, reduces gas, tenderizes and makes them more alkaline - plus adds more calcium. I've been adding a little piece to each pot of rice or beans and it seems to make my tummy happier. :) I need to figure out more ways to eat kombu and other new (to me) ingredients.

February 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMary M

Chances are the calcium supplement you are taking now is a rock source of calcium. The label will say "calcium carbonate", which is nothing more than limestone. AlgaeCal Plus contains an organic, plant-sourced calcium form derived from a unique South American marine algae called Algas Calcareas™.

March 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames

Great post! It's so useful to remind people that you can get lots of calcium from other sources. I try to eat canned sardines (in olive oil too) a couple of times a week. They're so handy! I love your list of recipes - a brilliant resource.

It's worth remembering though, that the foods on your list that are also high in oxalic acid or phytic acid will need to be cooked, fermented, sprouted or soaked before you can absorb much of the calcium they contain. You find oxalic acid in many dark leafy greens (not brassicas) and phytic acid in all grains, most beans (esp soy) and some seeds and nuts.

x x x

December 1, 2011 | Unregistered Commenternaomi devlin
Sorry, no comments/questions allowed right now.
Hi reader! My schedule as full-time grad student with two part-time jobs doesn't allow me the time to manage comments. I hope you enjoy what you find and can figure out answers to any questions you may have. xo