How to Get Calcium if You’re Not Eating Dairy

“But Sirena, how am I suppose to get my calcium if I’m not eating dairy?”

I hear this every time I suggest removing dairy from one of my client’s nutrition program.

And every time I hear it, I’m reassured that commercial food propaganda is still working at it’s finest.

With ads like the one below, it’s no wonder why we so often feel that we must get our calcium from milk and other dairy sources.

These ads make drinking milk seem sexy.

And sh#t, who doesn’t want to be more sexy?

I mean, it almost makes me want to drink milk again.

Except drinking milk makes me gassy.

And that just isn’t sexy.

(On an aside, of all the Got Milk ads I scoured, I choose Hayden…because it doesn’t hurt to have a pretty girl on your blog.)

Just as saturated fat is linked to heart disease, so is dairy linked to calcium.

But does no dairy = no calcium?

Absolutely not.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Just as we’ve been conditioned to stop at red lights, to believe red meat causes heart attacks, (need more funn examples) we’ve been conditioned to believe that dairy is the only way to get dietary calcium.

And yes, yes, pound for pound, dairy does have the highest levels of calcium, but this doesn’t mean it’s our only option.

My goal today is to share with you non-dairy alternatives that are loaded with calcium.

As a baseline comparison, I’m using yogurt and a plain glass of 2% milk as our control group, as these are the things I find, most people will eat and associate with calcium.

After that, I’ve listed some awesome non-dairy sources of calcium for you.

Check it out:

Fage Total Greek Yogurt, Total calcium: 176 mg (2)

1/2 cup 2% Milk, Total calcium: 142 mg (3)

Compare to these following choices:

1 cup of cooked bok choy, Total calcium: 158 mg (3)

3 oz. of Atlantic Sardines in oil Total calcium: 325 mg (3)

1 cup cooked okra, Total Calcium: 123 mg (3)

 

 

1/4 cup of raw almonds, Total calcium: 94 mg (4)

 

1 cup cooked collard greens, Total calcium: 266 mg (3)

5 dried figs, Total calcium: 155 mg (3)

100 gram raw kelp, Total Calcium: 168 mg (5)

In regards to getting the recommended daily allowance of calcium, (which for a woman 19-50 y/o is 1000 mg a day) you have plenty of options.

And just for kicks, I’m going to list even more options for you:

Food Serving Mg of Calcium
Basil, dried, ground 2 tsp 63.4
Turnip greens, cooked 1 cup 197.28
Spinach, boiled 1 cup 244.8
Mustard greens, boiled 1 cup 103.6
Cinnamon, ground 2 tsp 55.68
Blackstrap molasses 2 tsp 117.53
Swiss chard, boiled 1 cup 101.5
Sesame seeds 0.25 cup 351
Thyme, dried, ground 2 tsp 54.16
Rosemary, dried 2 tsp 28.16
Garlic 1 oz-wt 51.31
Brussel sprouts, boiled 1 cup 56.16

*for a lengthier list, click here.

Take a look at the sesame seeds. 351 mg of calcium in just 1/4 cup!

Daaaaaaaamn.

1/4 cup of sesame sees is the equivalent of 2 – 7 oz. tubs of greek yogurt.

That’s a lot of calcium if you ask me.

Ok, so now that you have more options for your dietary calcium, let’s make sure that your body is actually absorbing it.

There are a few factors that can actually decrease the rate of calcium abosorption within in the body, so I just want to make you aware of these things:

  • A lack of Vitamin D and Magnesium. Your body cannot readily absorb the calcium without the prescence of Vit D and magnesium.
  • Too much calcium supplementation. Calcium absorption decreases as calcium intake increases. Meaning if you are getting too much calcium (like from supplements) you lower the rate of absorption (6)
  • Diets high in grain. The phytates (phytic acid) found in whole grains and legumes can actually bind to calcium, which prevents the body from actually absorbing it (7). This is another reason why I recommend to minimize grains in my coaching program.

So the take home message for today is 2-fold:

1. Aside from dairy, there are other great sources of calcium such as dark leafy greens, sardines, mackarel, seaweed, and certain nuts and seeds.

2. You can increase your calcium absorption by making sure you get enough Vitamin D (think getting out in the sun), magnesium, reducing your grain intake, and maximizing your calcium through foods rather than supplements.

With all this new found information, I’m curious to hear if you feel a little better about minimizing or eliminating dairy if that’s what your program entails.

I’d love to hear your responses. So leave them below in the comment section.

Ta-ta,

Sirena

 

References:

1. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheet: Office of Dietary Supplements, NIH.

2. http://caloriecount.about.com/calories-fage-usa-total-classic-i108277

3. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference (Calcium)

4. Healthalicious Nutrition Facts Comparison Tool 

5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kelp

6. Committee to Review Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin D and Calcium, Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2010.

7. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=45

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