A cup of milk can be a great source of calcium, but did you know that a plant-based alternative can be just as good? Let’s learn a little bit more about where calcium comes from, how much we need and explore a few non-dairy sources of calcium that provide more of this mineral than your average 8 ounce cup of milk.
What is Calcium?
Calcium is a mineral that’s essential for building and maintaining strong bones, healthy muscle function, and is involved in hormone regulation. Calcium levels in the blood are so tightly regulated that when blood calcium levels drop, the thyroid is stimulated to pull calcium out of the bones.
How Much Calcium Should I Have Per Day?
It’s recommended that both male and female adults ages 19-50 intake 1,000 milligrams daily, and females ages 51-70 intake 1,200 milligrams daily. To help put that into perspective, a cup of milk contains 25-30% of the daily value (or about 300 milligrams) of the total recommended daily allowance.
Tips for Optimal Calcium Absorption
For optimal calcium absorption, focus on consuming no more than 500 mg of calcium at a time. When the dose increases above 500 mg, absorption may actually decrease. The body takes around two hours to absorb this important mineral, processing it in the duodenum (small intestine) after leaving the stomach. Since the duodenum can only assimilate up to 500 mg in those two hours, if more is ingested than can be processed, it’s unlikely that the entire amount consumed will be absorbed.
How Do I Get Calcium Without Dairy?
It’s well known that calcium is naturally present in dairy foods such as milk, yogurt and cheese, but there are plenty of non-dairy foods high in calcium as well. Here are some of our favorite non-dairy, calcium-rich foods to include in your diet:
- Orange juice, calcium fortified– 349 mg per serving/27% daily value (DV)
- Soymilk, calcium fortified- 299 mg per serving/23% DV
- Hard tofu, made with calcium sulfate (4 ounces) Hard type- 253 mg per serving/19% DV
- Soft tofu, made with calcium sulfate (4 ounces) - 138 mg per serving/11% DV
- Salmon, pink, canned, bone-in (3 ounces)- 181 mg per serving/14% DV
- Breakfast cereals fortified with 10% DV- 130 mg per serving/10% DV
- Turnip greens, fresh, boiled (4 ounces)- 99 mg per serving/8% DV
- Fresh kale, cooked (8 ounces)- 94 mg per serving/7% DV
- Raw kale, chopped (8 ounces)- 24 mg per serving/2% DV
- Chia seeds (1 tablespoon)- 76 mg per serving/6% DV
- Bok choi, raw (8 ounces)- 74 mg per serving/6% DV
- White bread (one slice)- 73 mg per serving/6% DV
- Whole wheat bread (one slice)- 30 mg per serving/2% DV
- Broccoli, raw (4 ounces)- 21 mg per serving/2% DV
Not sure how to use some of these items? Have fun experimenting to find the flavors you like best. Head to our recipe collection for inspiration and ingredients.
While the best way to get the nutrients you need is through the food you eat, supplements can be helpful for filling in the gaps. Over the counter (OTC) supplemental sources include calcium carbonate or calcium citrate and doses can contribute 200-750 milligrams of elemental calcium, depending on the product and strength. Remember that it’s always important to check with a healthcare professional before starting a new supplement regimen.