Moooove Over Dairy: Calcium Doesn’t Have to Come From the Cow
Calcium is one of the most essential nutrients for a myriad of physiologic functions, but especially when it comes to bone health. Just as any other tissue in our bodies would “turnover,” calcium is constantly being withdrawn and deposited both into and from our bones. When our blood calcium levels are low, our bodies will resort to our bone stores to maintain homeostasis, which can lead to brittle bones. Furthermore, our bones inevitably become weaker as we age and require constant fine-tuning, which is why it is important to make sure we consume enough of this mineral from our diets.
Most of us associate calcium with milk and other dairy products – and with good reason! If your childhood was anything like mine, you probably remember your mother yelling at you to finish your milk at the breakfast table to get your daily dose of calcium. However, if you happen to fall into the 65% of the population with lactose intolerance, or if you simply chose to avoid dairy products, you can sit back and relax… because the concept of dietary calcium coming exclusively from dairy is about as archaic as Wonder Bread.
Greens: Let’s begin with dark green vegetables – partially because it’s (drum roll please) National Kale Day (happy NKD!!!!) and of course, because these guys are calcium powerhouses. Kale, spinach, bok choy, mustard greens and collard greens all deserve a spot on your plate. While the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) recommends that men and women ages 19 - 50 get 1,000 mg of calcium per day - just 1 cup of cooked spinach has 245 mg of calcium, and not so far behind it, 1 cup of cooked kale provides just under 100 mg. Now do you see why these vegetables are rewarded their own holidays!?
White Beans: We all know beans, beans are good for your heart... but you might not know that you can turn to them for a nice dose of calcium. Particularly cooked white beans are a good source, with 161 mg in just one cup. That’s already 16% of the daily value!
Sesame seeds: You’ve probably never given these guys much thought, as they tend to be taken for granted and deemed solely as sushi garnishes or bagel toppings, but think again! Just 1 ounce of sesame seeds has 280 mg of calcium. Not to mention they’re also a good source of iron, zinc, phosphorus and fiber. Consider adding them to your next spinach salad or homemade white bean dip to double up on your calcium sources.
Tofu: For all of you vegans out there (and for all of you tofu lovers!) you should be pleasantly surprised to learn that tofu is more than just a good source of protein. 1 large block of extra firm tofu can provide almost 80 percent of the daily value of calcium! Try adding tofu into your next breakfast smoothie for an extra calcium boost.
Cinnamon: For many of us the autumn season translates to “apple cider, warm tea, or cookie-baking season.” The good news is that cinnamon is a very good source of calcium AND it complements many of the fall seasonal foods and beverages. Now don’t use this as an excuse to stay home and bake cookies all day – but with 78 mg of calcium in 1 tablespoon of cinnamon and with Thanksgiving right around the corner, I figured I’d give you some food for thought…
Almonds: Last but not least, if you’re one of the many “snackers” out there who need a little something to hold you over ‘till dinnertime, consider keeping a stash of almonds at your work desk. These nuts are a healthy source of fat and protein, which help to keep you satiated until your next meal. With 76 mg of calcium in 1 ounce (about 23 almonds), it’s a no-brainer.
These are just some of my favorite foods and spices with notable calcium contents. Foods like oranges, broccoli, asparagus, and fortified nut-milks tend to be reliable sources of calcium as well. The point is, that if you’re not a dairy eater, consuming adequate dietary calcium doesn’t have to be a headache… or a stomachache for that matter. Now what are you waiting for!? It’s time to get creative with your new favorite high calcium foods!
Leah Silberman is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist practicing in New York City. She completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where she graduated with a B.S. in dietetics. Leah subsequently went on to receive her master’s degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University. Her goal is to help others create healthier dietary habits that are pragmatic for their individual lifestyles. She strongly believes that the first step in making dietary changes that actually last, is to understand the fundamental relationship between food, nutrition and health.