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Fun fact: Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, and is found naturally in a wide variety of foods and beverages and added to many others! (Hellooo orange juice.) But whether lactose-intolerant or sick of wine and cheese parties, there’s no need to rely only on dairy products for that daily dose of calcium. Here’s why we should get enough calcium—and all the unexpected ways to get enough of it.
Beyond the Dairy Aisle—The Need-to-Know
It’s no secret that calcium is vital for strong bones and teeth, but it goes beyond that. This mineral also helps the body maintain healthy blood vessels, regulate blood pressure, and even prevent insulin resistance (which could lead to Type 2 diabetes) ((Calcium intake and its relationship with adiposity and insulin resistance in post-pubertal adolescents. Dos Santos, L.C., de Padua Cintra, I., Fisberg, M., et al. Nutrition Department, School of Public Health, São Paulo University, São Paulo, Brazil. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 2008 Apr;21(2):109-16.)). Adults should consume about 1,000 mg of calcium per day (which you can easily in 24 hours from one glass of skim milk, one thick slice of cheddar cheese, and one cup of plain yogurt), yet most Americans still fail to meet the mark. According to one survey, only 16 percent of females ages 20 to 29 females get enough calcium ((The importance of meeting calcium needs with foods. Miller, G.D., Jarvis, J.K., McBean, L.D. National Dairy Council, Rosemont, Illinois. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2001 Apr;20(2 Suppl):168S-185S.)). The main calcium contenders are milk, yogurt, and cheese, but dairy shouldn’t be the only dietary pit stop to fill up on this nutrient. Leafy greens, seafood, legumes, and fruit also contain calcium and many foods and drinks are fortified with the mineral. Just remember to try and pair non-dairy sources of calcium with vitamin D: The body needs vitamin D to help absorb calcium!
Craving Calcium?—Your Action Plan
Here’s a list of foods and beverages filled with calcium (no cows required), along with recipes to help make them an everyday occurrence in a variety of meals.
Most Americans aren't get enough nutrients through natural foods alone, and rely on enriched foods and supplements too ((Foods, fortificants, and supplements: Where do Americans get their nutrients? Fulgoni, V.L., Keast, D.R., Bailey, R.L., et al. Nutrition Impact LLC, Battle Creek, MI. Journal of Nutrition, 2011 Oct;141(10):1847-54. Epub 2011 Aug 24.)). So sail down the grocery aisle and stock up on these items, au natural!
1. White Beans: 191 mg (19% DV) in 1 cup canned
Creamy and light, these legumes are a great source of calcium and iron ((White beans provide more bioavailable iron than red beans: studies in poultry (Gallus gallus) and an in vitro digestion/Caco-2 model. Tako, E., Glahn, R.P. Department of Food Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research, 2010 Dec;80(6):416-29)). Add them to a pasta dish with veggies, or skip the chickpeas and make your own hummus with white beans.
2. Canned Salmon: 232 mg (23% DV) in ½ can with bones (which provides the calcium!)
To avoid putting a dent in the wallet, canned salmon is a great way to go. Here’s the catch: It’s the bones in canned salmon that hold all the calcium, so they need to be mashed up right along with the salmon meat for all the benefits! But don’t get turned off just yet — the canning process softens the bones so they easily break apart and are unnoticeable when mixed in with the rest of the can’s contents. For a boost of calcium and omega 3’s, try these salmon cakes.
3. Sardines: 321 mg (32% DV) in about 7 sardines fillets
There’s nothing fishy about sardines—they are one of the healthiest fish to munch on! Along with calcium, they also provide a hefty dose of omega 3’s and vitamin D. Try adding them to a Greek salad or eat 'em straight out of the can.
4. Dried Figs: 107 mg (10% DV) in 8 whole dried figs
For a sweet treat, this dried fruit packs an antioxidant, fiber, and calcium punch ((Color and Antioxidant Characteristics of Some Fresh Fig (Ficus carica L.) Genotypes from Northeastern Turkey. Ercisli, S., Tosun, M., Karlidag, H. Department of Horticulture, Ataturk University, Erzurum, Turkey. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, 2012 May 18.)). Eat them as a mid-day snack, or turn these delicious dried fruits into a creamy jam.
5. Bok Choy: 74 mg (7% DV) in 1 cup
This versatile Chinese cabbage provides a hefty dose of vitamins A and C, along with calcium and fiber. Stir-fry bok choy with garlic and olive oil for a perfect side dish.
6. Blackstrap Molasses: 172 mg (17% DV) in 1 tablespoon
When the sweet tooth strikes, it’s best to go natural. Blackstrap molasses is darker in color and richer in flavor than regular molasses, and is filled with calcium, iron, and other vitamins. Plus, it’s a great sweet and flavorful addition to many dishes. Drizzle some on pancakes, or use it to make brown sugar.
7. Kale: 188 mg (19% DV) in 2 cups raw (chopped)
This superfood is filled with calcium and antioxidants, and is perfect to use as the base of any salad when shredded into thin strips. A kale salad with apricots and avocado is a perfect springtime dish.
8. Black-eyed Peas: 185 mg (18% DV) in 1/2 cup canned
I gotta feeling this is not just a band. These beans are filled with calcium, potassium, folate, and more! Skip the fat-filled mayo and whip up this black-eyed pea spread to pump up any sandwich or appetizer.
9. Almonds: 72 mg (7% DV) in ¼ cup dry roasted (about 20 nuts)
You’re "nuts" if you don’t grab a handful of almonds every now and then! They’re the most nutritionally dense nut, packing a crazy amounts of nutrients per calorie and ounce. Aside from calcium, they also contain potassium, vitamin E, and iron. Sprinkle on a salad or make your own almond butter. Just watch out for portion size!
10. Oranges: 65 mg (6% DV) in 1 medium fruit
Orange-you glad we included oranges?! Full of vitamin C and calcium, enjoy this fruit as a mid-morning snack, or use its citrus flavor to brighten up any dish, like these honey-orange carrots.
11. Turnip Greens: 197 mg (20% DV) in 1 cup cooked (chopped)
This leafy green comes from turnip bulbs, and is filled with calcium, antioxidants, and folate, which could help improve mood. Sautee them as a side dish, or spice things up and make a turnip tart.
12. Sesame Seeds: 88 mg (9% DV) in 1 tablespoon
These unassuming seeds are more than just a hamburger bun decoration. Sesame seeds can help lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and may even fight against certain cancers. Use their nutty crunch in a salad, or add to this sautéed spinach dish.
14. Seaweed: 126 mg (13% DV) in about 1 cup raw
Fish aren’t the only, well, fish in the sea. Seaweed is full of calcium, fiber, and iodine, which helps with proper thyroid function ((Effect of dietary fiber in edible seaweeds on the development of D-galactosamine-induced hepatopathy in rats. Kawano, N., Egashirta, Y., Sanada, H. Laboratory of Food and Nutrition, Graduate School of Science and Technology, Chiba University, Japan. The Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology, 2007 Oct;53(5):446-50.)) ((Assessment of Japanese iodine intake based on seaweed consumption in Japan: A literature-based analysis. Zava, T.T., Zava, D.T. ZRT Laboratory, 8605 SW Creekside Place, Beaverton, OR. Thyroid Research, 2011 Oct 5;4:14.)). Bring a bowl of risotto up a notch with this seaweed recipe. Feel like keeping it classic? Try your hand at a classic miso soup.
Fortified with Calcium
Fortifying foods with calcium has become a popular way to help people consume a balanced diet, but some studies do suggest eating foods with naturally occurring nutrients is the better route to take ((Vitamin food fortification today. De Lourdes, S. Alonso-Aperte, E., Varela-Moreiras, G. Department of Pharmaceutical and Food Sciences, Faculty of Pharmacy, CEU San Pablo University, Madrid, Spain. Food and Nutrition Research, 2012;56. doi: 10.3402/fnr.v56i0.5459.)) ((Efficacy and safety of food fortification with calcium among adults in Finland. Hirvonen, T., Tapanainen, H., Valsta, L., et al. National Public Health Institute, Department of Epidemiology and Health Promotion, Helsinki, Finland. Public Health Nutrition, 2006 Sep;9(6):792-7.)) ((Appropriate calcium fortification of the food supply presents a challenge. Johnson-Down, L., L’Abbe, M.R., Lee, N.S., et al. School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition, McGill University, Ste Anne de Bellevue, Canada. Journal of Nutrition, 2003 Jul;133(7):2232-8.)). So just make sure you’re not only reaching for the fortified kinds!
14. Instant Oatmeal: 187 mg (19% DV) in 1 cup
Many cereals and grains are now fortified, including our favorite morning breakfast. And while the instant kind doesn’t boast the same benefits as old-fashioned rolled oats, they’re a quick breakfast option that’s full of fiber and calcium. Just choose the kinds without added sugar.
16. Soymilk: 300 mg (30% DV) in 1 cup
Cows milk not your cup of tea? Soymilk is a great option for people who are lactose intolerant and contains more protein than regular milk. Pour in a morning bowl of cereal or add to coffee with some cinnamon.
17. Firm Tofu: 861 mg (86% DV) in ½ cup
We know what you’re thinking: What exactly is tofu? This meaty textured vegetarian alternative is actually made of dried soybeans that have been grounded up and boiled. It’s a great way to add lots of protein, little fat, and (of course) calcium to any meal! What’s on the dinner table tonight? Try this caramelized tofu.
18. Cheerios: 114 mg (14% DV) in 1 cup
They’re touted for helping lower cholesterol, but Cheerios also pack a significant amount of calcium into our cereal bowl. Enjoy with skim or soy milk and sliced strawberries, or in homemade trail mix for extra crunch.
Do you have any favorite calcium-packed non-dairy foods you eat on the regular? Tell us below!