When people find out that I don’t eat or drink dairy, their first concern is usually that I am not getting enough calcium. When people ask “Where do you get your calcium?” the short answer is that I’m really not sure. I haven’t spent the time that I should researching calcium sources and ensuring that I am getting enough. I haven’t been terribly concerned for a few reasons. First, I’ve been hearing mixed information about the benefits of calcium, especially when it comes from dairy, but I need to research this more to really understand it. Secondly, we have switched to a brand of almond milk that supposedly has more calcium than cow’s milk (or at least that’s what the carton tells me), so I feel like that probably balances out anything I am losing from other sources. Whether those are good reasons or not, that’s what I have been telling myself. Someone just asked me about calcium the other day, so I decided it was time to learn about other foods with calcium to make sure that we are getting what we need.
According to the Mayo Clinic, men and women between 19 and 50 years of age should be getting about 1000 mg of calcium per day, but American Bone Health says the RDA for the same age groups is 800 mg. Starting out, I really had no idea how close I was coming to either of those numbers, but I quickly learned that calcium is in A LOT of foods. So the way I look at it, if you are getting two or three good servings of calcium daily, you are probably filling in the rest with various foods throughout the day. To put this theory to the test, I put together a dairy and soy free meal plan for a day to see how it measures up (full list at bottom of post):
Huh. 816 mg of calcium? Not bad for not really trying to create a high calcium diet. That exceeds one of the RDAs that I found, and is more than 80% of the way there for the other. I think this is pretty good since the amount of calcium people are able to absorb from supplements is debatable and highly variable by brand and type. If you are counting on supplements to get calcium, you may not even be getting a fraction of the RDA.
If you are in a demographic that needs more calcium or just want to ensure that you are getting the recommended 1000 mg, there are some simple ways to adjust the above meal plan to get more. For example, you could boost up the calcium in the trail mix by adding some dried goji berries (1/4 cup would add about 90 mg of calcium), or enhance your oatmeal with some flax seeds (over 100 mg per ¼ cup). You could add a snack of kale chips for another 90 mg of calcium, or even just a plain glass of almond milk for an additional 200 mg.
In general, I really like the philosophy of 100 Days of Real Food that if we eat a variety of whole foods (without overeating), there should be no need to count anything or to supplement with vitamins. I think any time you make a big diet change, like removing dairy and soy, it’s a good idea to check and make sure that you are still getting the nutrition that you need. As I mentioned in “What’s in it for me?” one of the benefits I personally found in eliminating dairy and soy was that it gave me the opportunity to add more variety. To me, the import thing is being educated. Make sure that you are aware of the nutrients your body needs, and good sources for those nutrients. Writing this post was extremely educational for me, and allowed me the chance to learn about some food that I am going to attempt to fit more into my diet. Below is a list of the top calcium sources that I found in my research. I kept everything consistent with 1 cup serving sizes so that you can easily compare to the same serving of cow’s milk, even though some of them would obviously not be consumed in 1 cup servings (like cinnamon). You will also find calorie content (source – calorie king) for a balanced perspective. I hope you have found this helpful and are able to use this information to add more variety and healthful foods into your diet!