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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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?
Here are some recipe from my blog that are rich in calcium:
- White Bean Garlic Dip (GF, vegan, ACD)
- Beet Hummus (GF, vegan, ACD)
- Roasted Red Pepper Hummus (GF, vegan, ACD)
- Red Hot Smoothie (gluten-free, vegan, raw, ACD)
- Simple Sesame Milk (GF, vegan, ACD, raw option)
- Salmon & "Eggs" Breakfast Scramble (GF, vegan option)
- Cumin-Kissed Kale (GF, vegan, ACD)
- Broccoli with Garlic Chips (GF, vegan, ACD)
- Spicy Sautéed Beans n' Greens (GF, vegan, ACD)
- Sauteed Zucchini with Garlic Scape & Spinach Pesto (GF, vegan, ACD)
- Turnip Broccoli Au Gratin (GF, vegan, ACD)
- Apple, Turnip & Cabbage Hash (GF, vegan, ACD)
- Pesto di Carciofi - Artichoke Pesto (GF, CF, vegan option, ACD)
- Cashew Seaweed Gomasio (GF, vegan, raw, ACD) (use sesame seeds instead of cashew)
- Black Bean Fudge (GF, vegan, ACD)
- Fudge Sunny Bunnies, a.k.a. Chocolate Sunbutter Fudge (GF, vegan, ACD) - use tahini instead of sunflower seed butter
- PIckled Chard Stems (GF, vegan, ACD, raw)
- Pickled Beets (GF, vegan, ACD)
- Pickled Turnips & Beets (GF, vegan, raw, ACD)
- Parsnips, Chard, & Chickpeas with Besan Puda (Chickpea Flour Flour Flatbreads) (GF, vegan, ACD)
- Salmon Stuffed Baked Collard Rolls with Red Pepper Carrot Sauce (GF, ACD)
- Insalata di Pollo con Carciofi (Chicken Salad with Artichokes) (GF, ACD)
- Carrot Ribbon Salad (raw, ACD, vegan, gluten free)
- Cabbage Slaw with Sorrel and Sesame (gluten free, vegan, ACD, raw option)
- Indian-Spiced Chickpeas & Chard Salad (GF, vegan, ACD)
- Cabbage & Celeriac Winter Slaw (GF, vegan, raw, ACD)
- Broccoli & Chickpea Pesto Pasta Salad (GF, vegan, ACD)
- White Bean Salad with Peppers and Herbs (GF, vegan, ACD)
- Thai Red Curry Vegetable Soup (GF, ACD, vegan option)
- Turnip & Kale Soup (GF, vegan, ACD)
- Red Russian Borscht (GF, vegan, ACD)
- Super Sexy Borscht (GF, vegan, ACD)
- "Triple B" Beet and Black Bean Chili (GF, vegan, ACD)
- Coconut Black Bean Stew with Carrots & Yuca Root (GF, vegan)
- Irish Beef & Cabbage Soup (GF, ACD)
- Crispy Raw Flaxseed Crackers (GF, vegan, raw, ACD)
- Wasabi Garlic Raw Kale Chips (GF, vegan, raw, ACD)
A FINAL NOTE....
One of the reasons I love eating foods that are naturally high in calcium is that I can't take calcium supplements. The antibiotics I take for Lyme Disease treatment cannot be taken with concentrated sources of calcium or magnesium, as those minerals inhibit antibiotic absorption. Due to the frequency with which I take antibiotics through the day, I do not have time to fit in calcium or magnesium. So I opt to get my calcium intake from a wide variety of whole foods through the day, rather than in a a concentrated form.
If you choose to take a calcium supplement in addition to a varied diet, make sure you get calcium citrate - according to my naturopath, it is the most easily absorbable form of the mineral.