Yes, there are sources of calcium other than dairy. Registered Dietitian Mia Syn, MS, RD debunks this common myth and shares the best way to meet your calcium needs.
Today I am answering a highly requested question…
How can I get enough calcium if I do not consume dairy?
There is a common misconception that calcium comes solely from milk. While dairy products are known sources of calcium, there are other less obvious foods that provide it in equal amounts but it is important to be aware of the portion we need.
Why is calcium important?
Calcium plays several roles in the body including aiding muscle contraction, supporting bone health and aiding cell signaling. Therefore, it exerts effects on our cardiovasculoar, nervous and muscular systems.
99% of our total body calcium resides in bone. However, calcium absorption averages about 20-30% and decreases with lack of vitamin D in the diet – another reminder that several vitamins work in synergy of one another. Additionally, calcium absorption is affected by dietary fiber, phytates (in grains) and oxalates (in spinach).
While milk, yogurt and cheese are all good sources of calcium, it is important to realize that plants contain it too. For example, leafy greens like collards, turnip greens, kale and broccoli rabe are well known sources as are nuts and dried figs. Furthermore, a less known source of calcium is canned salmon and sardines (with bones).
To put this into perspective, the calcium contained in one cup of milk is found in these equivalent sources:
~15 cups spinach
~14 cups red beans
~8 cups cauliflower or brussels sprouts
~6 cups almonds
~4 cups kale
~3 cups mustard greens
~2 cups turnip greens
What’s the deal with supplements?
I am hesitant to recommend calcium supplements to my clients because of conflicting research suggesting its link to vascular disease. However, I can say that the best way to get your calcium, is from food.
Why we need it:
Osteoporosis is a skeletal disorder that primarily affects women over 50 years of age. It is characterized by compromised bone strenth – both quality and density – and can increase risk of fracture.
Something that many of us may not know is that we build our bone mass up to about 25 years of age, with a steady loss thereafter. Furthermore, certain lifestyle factors will increase your chance of osteoporosis including suboptimal nutrition (esepcecially vitamin D and calcium), inadequate physical activity, smoking and excessive alcohol intake. Because of this, it is especially important to get calcium in your twenties as a woman.
Don’t forget to send your nutrition questions to firstname.lastname@example.org!