Non-Dairy Calcium Sources: The Top Foods to Increase Your Family's Intake

Curious about how to meet your calcium needs from non-dairy sources? It's possible!
By 
April Panitz
MS, RDN, CDN

You might have heard that old jingle, “Milk, it does a body good,” but do you know why it’s good for your body? No, it’s not some ploy by the government to sell commodities. It’s because it contains essential nutrients like calcium.

But if you or your kids are lactose intolerant, vegan, or if dairy just makes your belly feel funky,  how can you make sure that the family is getting enough calcium?

Fear not! There are many great options for non-dairy calcium sources out there.

This post will explain why calcium is so important, how you can make sure you and your family are meeting your needs, and where you can find it. 

Let’s get to it!

What Is Calcium and Why Is It So Important?

Calcium is a mineral in the body. You can also find it in medicines, plants, and dietary supplements. 

Calcium plays a part in many different systems in the body. Almost all calcium in the body (99%) is found in the bones and teeth in the form of hydroxyapatite (a combo of calcium & phosphate). This provides these tissues with strength, rigidity, flexibility, and permits bodily movement. 

The remaining calcium is within cells or the blood, lymph, and plasma. Here it plays an essential role in several processes, including blood vessel dilation and contraction, blood clotting, and muscle contraction. Calcium is also vital for hormone secretion and nerve transmission.

The body is constantly balancing the amount of blood calcium to perform these functions. If dietary calcium needs are not met, the body will reabsorb, or release calcium from the bones to ensure that blood levels are within the normal range. Calcium is also lost naturally from the skin, hair, nails, sweat, urine, and feces.

How Much Calcium is Needed?

The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of nutrients is the average daily amount needed to meet the nutrient requirements of almost all (97-98%) healthy persons. Adequate intake (AI), the amount assumed to ensure nutritional sufficiency when there is not enough evidence for an RDA, is used for infants (0-12 months).

In infants, the calcium AI is equal to the average amount a breastfed infant receives. For children, the RDA for calcium is the amount necessary for bone growth and a positive calcium balance. The RDA for adult calcium intake is the amount needed for bone upkeep and maintenance. 


Age                          

0 - 6 months        200 mg    

7 - 12 months      260 mg  

1 - 3 years            700 mg

4 - 8 years            1,000 mg    

9 - 13 years          1,300 mg   

14 -18 years         1,300 mg    

19 - 50 years        1,000 mg*    

51 - 70 years        1,000 mg (for females: 1,200 mg)

70+ years              1,200 mg  

*same requirements if you are pregnant or lactating


Special Calcium Considerations During the Life Cycle

All age groups need adequate calcium intake for bone and overall health, but certain stages during the life cycle require special attention. These times call for an increase in calcium intake.

Children

The first two decades of life are the most important for future bone health and are a time of positive calcium balance. This is the time when calcium intake is vital for bone growth and the building of bone density. By the age of 20, bone-building is complete and peak bone mass is achieved.

Pregnancy

During pregnancy, calcium is needed for the formation of the fetal skeleton and to maintain the bone health of the mother. In this period, the mother absorbs more calcium from food, and additional calcium is released from her bones, which is replaced after pregnancy with adequate dietary intake.

Post-Menopausal Women

During menopause, the decrease in estrogen reduces calcium absorption, increases bone resorption, and increases loss in the urine. This leads to a loss of about 1% of bone mineral density per year after menopause. Over time, this can lead to bone loss and fragile bones. 


Where Can You Find Sources of Non-Dairy Calcium?

As you can see, calcium is very important throughout the lifespan. So where can you find it if you don’t do dairy? Listed below are the top plant and animal sources of calcium and the average amount found in non-dairy milks. 

Plant Sources of Calcium

•  1 container (5.3 oz) fortified coconut yogurt- 370 mg

•  1 c fortified orange juice - 349 mg

•  1 c fortified soymilk - 300 mg

•  1 c cooked collards - 268 mg

•  ½  c tofu firm w/calcium sulfate - 253 mg

•  ½ c tofu soft w/calcium sulfate - 138 mg

•  ½ c cooked edamame -131mg

•  1 serving fortified cereal - 130 mg

•  1 c navy beans - 123 mg

•  1 can chickpeas - 114 mg

•  ½ c raw broccoli - 21 mg

•  ½  c cooked turnip greens - 99 mg

• 1 c cooked kale - 94 mg

• 1 c kidney beans - 87 mg

•  1 c black beans - 84 mg

•  1 tbsp chia seeds - 76 mg

•  1 oz almonds - 76 mg

•  1 c raw Bok Choy- 74 mg

•  ½ c pinto beans - 54 mg

•  6 in corn tortilla 46 mg

•  1 c blackberries - 41 mg

•  1 c red cabbage - 40 mg

•  1 c green beans - 37 mg

•  1 c raspberries - 30 mg

•  1 slice whole-wheat bread - 30 mg

•  1 c halved strawberries - 24 mg

Animal Sources of Calcium

  • 3 oz sardines with bones - 325 mg
  • 3 oz canned pink salmon with bones - 181 mg
  • 3 oz shrimp - 59 mg
  • 3 oz canned clams - 55 mg
  • 1 large egg - 24 mg
  • 3 oz ground turkey - 23 mg

Average Calcium in a Cup of Non-Dairy Milk

  • Almond - 450 mg
  • Cashew - 450 mg
  • Rice - 300 mg
  • Hemp - 250 mg
  • Soy - 125 mg
  • Oat - 120 mg
  • Coconut - 40 mg

What Does A Typical Day Look Like?

If you can’t have dairy, getting enough calcium is not difficult, but it does take some planning. Below is a breakdown of how you can meet your calcium needs with three meals and a snack. 

Breakfast:

1 c  fortified rice milk - 300 mg

1 c Total cereal - 40 mg

1 c strawberries - 30 mg

Total: 370 mg

Lunch:

3 oz canned salmon - 181 mg

1 c navy beans - 123 mg

2 c spinach- 60 mg

½ c tomato - 9 mg

¼  avocado - ~ 4mg

Total: 377 mg

Snack:

1 serving chia pudding (1 c soy milk, 3 tbsp chia seeds) - 528 mg

1 peach - 9 mg

Total: 537 mg

Dinner:

1/2 c baked firm tofu - 253 mg

1/2 c brown rice - 20 mg

1 c bok choy- 74 mg

1/2 c sautéed zucchini - 9 mg

1/2 c green beans - 20 mg

Total: 376 mg

Daily Total: 1660 mg


Bottom Line: It’s possible to meet your daily calcium needs with non-dairy sources!

Calcium is a vital mineral for bones and teeth, blood vessel health, blood clotting, muscle hormone secretion, and nerve transmission. It‘s found in a variety of foods including dairy, vegetables, fruits, grains, and animal products. 

Whether you eat dairy or not, it is important to be aware of what you are eating so that you are meeting your and your family’s calcium needs. It may take some planning, but you can meet these needs by eating a wide variety of foods every day (this goes for all nutrients)! 

At Amenta, we can analyze your diet and determine whether or not you are sufficiently meeting your calcium needs. We can work together to fill in the nutritional gaps and come up with a plan that fits your preferences and your lifestyle. Book a Complimentary Consultation!

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