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Non-Dairy Sources of Calcium

By Scott Stoll, MD, January 25, 2013  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Scott Stoll, MD

Kale Waldorf Salad They say you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip but can you squeeze calcium from kale? Calcium is an important part of a healthy diet. It plays an essential role in bone density, muscle contraction, nerve function, blood pressure stability and healing. Today, a large percentage of people look to dairy as their primary source to meet their daily calcium needs.

But what are the options for those who are seeking non-dairy sources of calcium? Can they meet their daily needs without dairy? Currently, the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for calcium ranges from 800mg to 1200mg per day. If dairy is the standard, one cup of milk, for example, contains 300mg of calcium. Let’s compare this to some whole foods sources of calcium per serving based on USDA research: 

healthierpantry-sunflowerseedsTofu 350 mg per ½ cup serving

Tapioca 300 mg per ½ cup serving

Chia seeds 300 mg per 1.5 ounces serving

Collard greens 210 mg per ½ cup serving

Kale 205 mg per ½ cup serving

Bok Choy 190 mg per ½ cup serving

Figs 135mg per 5 fig serving

White Beans 120 mg per ½ cup serving

Turnip Greens 104 mg per ½ cup serving

Spinach 99 mg per ½ cup serving

Almonds 93 mg per ¼ cup serving

Sesame Seeds 51 mg per 1 tablespoon serving

This is just a short list of a large number of plant-based whole foods that contain calcium. Perusing the list, it’s easy to see that consuming a predominantly plant-based diet of whole foods would easily meet the RDA guidelines for daily calcium intake. Health Starts Here Consuming more calcium is not the only answer to building a stronger body. A Yale study that analyzed 34 published studies from 16 countries found that the countries with people who consumed the highest levels of dairy and animal-based products had the highest levels of osteoporosis.

Additionally they found that South Africans’ daily calcium intake was 196mg and yet they were nine times less likely to suffer hip fractures than their American counterparts.1 This study highlights the fact that other factors (i.e. high sugar or protein intakes, sedentary lifestyle) and important aspects of calcium metabolism, including absorption and excretion, work in concert to maintain strong bones and a healthy body.

Bok Choy with Carrots and Sesame-Orange DressingSimply put, consuming more calcium does not directly correlate with stronger bones.  Calcium absorption is a crucial second step. When one cup of milk is consumed, approximately 32% of the calcium is absorbed. Compare this to the calcium absorption from leafy green vegetables, such as bok choy, that produce a 40-70% absorption rate.2 Applying a little math we see that approximately 96 mg of calcium is absorbed from one cup of milk compared to 132mg of calcium from 1 cup of bok choy (70% absorption of 190 mg).

Almonds follow closely behind milk with 21% absorption, beans average 17% and spinach, because of higher oxalate levels, trails the group at 5%. The final aspect of calcium metabolism that has been largely ignored is excretion or losses. Excessive dietary protein and sodium will increase calcium losses in the urine.

Also, medications such as antacids containing aluminum have been shown to increase calcium excretion. Consuming the Standard American Diet while meeting calcium goals may still result in inadequate calcium balance due to losses from excessive protein and sodium intakes. 

Italian Chowder with Cod and KaleThis highlights the key concept that bone health is more than just calcium intake. Minerals, Vitamin D and activity are all important components of healthy, strong bones. One of the most important additional benefits of whole food sources of calcium is that they supply minerals and micronutrients that promote bone health. Minerals such as manganese, boron, zinc, copper, strontium and magnesium are found in these whole foods and are critical components of calcium metabolism and bone health. Without these micronutrients, calcium assimilation into bone is limited.

Eating a variety of these non-dairy sources of calcium helps to ensure an adequate supply of these vital minerals. Eating whole foods is a great way to get the calcium and minerals that help promote a healthy body and bones. Consider some of these ways of adding non-dairy foods with calcium to your diet:

•Add legumes and beans to a chili or stew

•Mix tofu as well as kale and other greens into soups

•Top salads with broccoli, seaweed, almonds and sunflower seeds

•Spread almond butter or hummus on whole grain or pita bread

What other ways do you boost your calcium with non-dairy sources?

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1.Abelow B, Holford T, Insogna K. Cross-cultural association between dietary animal protein and hip fracture: A hypothesis Calcified Tissue International 1992, Volume 50, Number 1, 14-18
2.Heaney RP, Weaver CM. Calcium absorption from kale. Am J Clin Nutr 1990; 51:656-657.

 

16 Comments

Comments

Barbora says ...
Great article, especially the part on calcium absorption which was new information for me! I'm a vegan so I hate when people think I can't get lots of calcium in my diet. I love to make smoothies with kale sometimes! I love tofu and fortified soymilk works great too. Just eating a variety of foods helps!
01/26/2011 2:34:05 AM CST
Luciana Nurman says ...
There was a discrepancy in the serving of bok choy in the article. In the list above, bok choy was said to contain 190mg of calcium per 1/2 cup, but in the "absorption" paragraph, the calcium contents of 190mg were in 1 cup. Which is correct?
01/26/2011 7:47:58 PM CST
GiGi says ...
FINALLY someone sheds light on the fact that DAIRY IS NOT THE BEST SOURCE OF CALCIUM!!! Wipe off that milk mustard and load up on some bok choy & kale!!
01/26/2011 9:23:09 PM CST
Melissa McAuliffe says ...
I think there are some foods that "some" people just can't eat. I for one, can not tolerate Kale. I've tried it so many ways and it just tastes bad. I've heard people say that about guacamole/avocado too. Which I love. So I'm glad there are other places to get calcium! Yeah for tofu and almonds! Oh and tahini!
01/26/2011 11:07:12 PM CST
Suzanne Schuelke says ...
Raw dairy is incredibly healthy. The problem with so much of the dairy available to us is simply that it's pasteurized and homogenized. Can't wait for the raw milk bill to pass this year.
01/27/2011 9:11:22 AM CST
Khaetlyn says ...
Dairy is completely UNhealthy. It is beyond me why people continue to believe that drinking the milk from a different species and drinking the milk after infancy can possibly be beneficial to their health. Did you know humans are the only species to drink milk from another species? And did you know humans are the only species to drink milk after infancy? Drinking milk from cows or goats is just as weird, unnatural, and unhealthy as drinking milk from dogs, elephants, or deer. Just like any other mammal, cows must become pregnant to make milk. Obviously, cow's milk is for baby cows just like cat milk is for kittens and dog milk is for puppies. Eat your vegetables.
02/03/2011 7:32:56 PM CST
Michael says ...
I had, quite some time ago, understood that the calcium in green leafy vegies was poorly absorbed due to the presence of oxalic acid...Even when cooked. To quote Dr. Andrew Weil's website on the issue: "For example, although the calcium content of spinach is 115 mg per half cup cooked, because of the interference of oxalic acid, you would have to eat more than 16 cups of raw or more than eight cups of cooked spinach to get the amount of calcium available in one cup of yogurt." Certainly legume based calcium (including tofu) doesn't have this issue, but the green leafy source information doesn't seem to agree with what you say. Can you comment? Thanks!
02/05/2011 12:21:04 PM CST
Carole says ...
Thank you for your article. You state that this is just a short list of plant based whole foods that contain calcium. Where do I find the long list. I have been searching the internet for this information and all I find is short lists of the same information. I am trying to compile a non-dairy list of foods with sources of calcium for myself, not that I wouldnt share the completed list. I am trying to be pro-active with osteoporosis. I appreciate your time and the information. Best regards, Carole
10/17/2011 10:21:06 AM CDT
Janet says ...
Carole, did you ever complete that list of calcium rich foods? I, too, am fighting osteoporosis. Any help is appreciated. Janet
03/25/2013 2:01:52 PM CDT
evan j bernstein says ...
https://www.ars.usda.gov/SP2UserFiles/Place/12354500/Data/SR25/nutrlist/sr25w301.pdf has a very comprehensive list of foods and calcium levels.
07/14/2013 8:20:36 AM CDT
kathy cotton says ...
tell me what you know about plant based calcium supplements. Like Algae and such. thanks
12/18/2013 9:05:47 PM CST
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@KATHY - I would suggest reaching out to your local store and a Whole Body team member will be happy to help. They can let you know ideas based on what they have in stock.
12/20/2013 11:45:35 AM CST
Miledy Cuevas says ...
I like organic silken tofu with frozen strawberries.
02/19/2014 6:24:42 AM CST
joyce machowski says ...
I had such a great experience when my sister took me to whole food- after i found out i have a allergy to dairy. So now i returned the favor and took my daughter in-law (who can't have gluten or corn) to whole foods. She was so thrilled that you have a list of gluten free foods(BUT WOULD REALLY LOVE A LIST FOR CORN FREE FOODS)Thank you for not sharing my e-mail! THANK YOU for all you do-for food sensitive people!!!!!!!
03/10/2014 5:19:13 PM CDT
Patricia says ...
I take Calcium with Vitamin K2. Vitamin K2 helps direct calcium to the bones and teeth(where it belongs), keeping the calcium from attaching itself to the arteries. Natural sources are Natto, egg yolk, butter...problem is I don't like the cholesterol in egg yolk and butter and I don't like the taste of Natto. I found this online and order it online as well http://tinyurl.com/q8fjc93 It is made in USA; head office is in California. That's why delivery and handling is free in USA. Delivery took about 3 to 7 days. It has Omega 3+ as well as CoQ10 and Vitamin K2 and it is Extended release(long-term effect).
03/13/2014 6:38:49 PM CDT
Leslie says ...
Agree with Khaetlyn. Human people and bovine (cows & bulls) have different nutritional needs, as in brain development v.s. muscle development, I hear. The dairy industry has had a great influence on legislators and government agencies as reflected in the old food pyramid. and textbooks. That is why we have to get big money out of political campaigns. The dairy industry also spends an enormous amount of advertising both obvious and subtle, like product placement, to promote their industry products. If you have every pumped milk to feed a baby human, (as opposed to normal nursing with babe in arms), then you know how cruel it is for those cows and for the deprived calves, not to mention the enormous negative effect on the environment having so many pooping bovine, with 10 pounds of corn to produce 1 pound of beef, which is poor land and water management. Now the corn feed is GMO instead of nutrient rich grass, their normal diet. So the animal feed industry is also in on supporting the dairy industry as they depend on feeding those cows & bulls. A few years ago, I found out all that gas and bloated belly was from dairy! My mom had digestion problems, so it is possible that the dairy caused her suffering, but no one ( public and doctors) knew about dairy sensitivity decades ago,. Michael, I heard that spinach is the only dark green leafy vegetable that obstructs calcium absorption. So I make sure to separate meals with lots of calcium with meals with spinach. Thanks for calling attention to spinach! Maybe someone can do some more checking on dark green leafy veggies and calcium absorption because it is important.
03/21/2014 12:52:41 PM CDT