“If you don’t eat dairy, aren’t you missing out on calcium?”
This is a question you have likely heard before, if you avoid dairy.
More and more people are choosing to eliminate dairy for various reasons – whether it be switching to a plant-based diet, having an intolerance to lactose, etc. It is a personal choice to eliminate dairy – I am neither yay or nay as there is evidence for and against eliminating dairy from one’s diet. If dairy is eliminated from one’s diet, it is definitely possible to obtain enough calcium from plant sources – without supplements! I’m here to inform you of the best ways to get calcium in a dairy free diet.
How Much Calcium Do You Need?
While it’s essential to get enough calcium in your daily diet, it’s also important not to get too much. An excessive intake of calcium can lead to kidney stones, other kidney problems and potentially heart issues. See the chart below for the recommended dietary amount and upper limit for your age group.
|Recommended Dietary Amount (mg)||
Upper Limit (mg)
|Children 1-3 years||700||2500|
|Children 4-8 years||1000||2500|
|Boys and girls 9-18 years||1300||3000|
|Females 19-50 years||1000||2500|
|Males 19-70 years||1000||2500|
|Females 50 + years||1200||2000|
|Males 70 + years||1200||2000|
Best Plant Sources of Calcium
1. Cooked Leafy Greens
1) Plant foods contain oxalates, natural compounds that bind to calcium causing it to be poorly absorbed. Make sure you cook your vegetables, as this increases the amount of calcium that’s available for absorption by releasing what’s bound to oxalates!
2) Although some green leafy vegetables are higher in calcium than others, the percentage of calcium that is absorbed (bioavailability) varies with each vegetable.The relative availability of calcium is higher in broccoli (61%), bok choy (54%) and kale (49%) compared to milk (32%), some other vegetables are lower such as spinach (5%) and sweet potatoes (22%).
The lower concentration of calcium in vegetables means that the following serving sizes are needed to absorb the same amount of calcium available from one cup of milk:
Broccoli (2.3 cups)
Bok choy (1.2 cups)
Kale (1.6 cups)
Spinach (8.2 cups)
The best sources of calcium in beans are found in white navy beans (left), pinto beans (centre) and soy beans (right). You’ll find 261 mg of calcium in 1 cup of cooked soy beans, 123 mg of calcium in 1 cup of calcium in cooked navy beans and 175 mg of calcium in 1 cup of cooked pinto beans. There are so many ways to enjoy beans in your diet! Pair them with a grain in a salad (lentil + barley for example), enjoy in soups or chillis or puree them to make a hearty vegetarian meatloaf or muffin. You can use canned beans or raw beans – before use, rinse the canned beans for about 1 minute under cold water!
3. Non-Dairy Milks
You can reach for a number of plant-based milks now! These include almond, coconut, hemp, oat, rice and soy. The plant based milk that I usually recommend is soy – it’s the only one with a significant amount of protein, at 7 g per cup. When looking for a non-dairy milk, make sure you reach for an enriched version with added calcium and vitamin D. Pay attention to the type of calcium used to fortify your beverage, as this impact how efficiently the calcium is absorbed! Calcium absorption from calcium-fortified soy beverages using tricalcium phosphate as the source of calcium is 75% of the calcium absorption of cow’s milk. Calcium absorption from plant-based beverage products fortified with calcium carbonate is equivalent to cow’s milk! Enriched plant milks have approximately 300 mg of calcium per cup.
4. Firm Tofu
Firm tofu that’s been processed with calcium is a good source of calcium – look for calcium sulfate on the ingredients list). You’ll find 253 mg in 1/2 cup of raw tofu with calcium sulfate. Many may be hesitant to try tofu, but it’s all how you prepare it! My favourite thing to do with tofu is marinate it for a few hours and then bake it. Then, you can easily add this to top off stir fry dishes or pad thai’s! Make sure you ‘press’ the tofu for an hour or so before you marinate it to make the tofu more firm – this will bring the tofu to a more desirable ‘chewy’ texture. My favourite way to press tofu is to wrap it in a paper towel and leave it between two cookbooks.
5. Figs & Oranges
When turning to fruit, try to choose figs and oranges for a calcium boost. You’ll get about 75 mg with one large orange or 6 dried figs. You can also get calcium from fortified orange juice (around 300 mg for 1 cup), however most of us can do without the added sugar and little satiety a glass of fruit juice brings. Try using figs in place of dates when baking to add a little bit of sweetness, or a mid-day snack, paired with some almonds for protein! Another idea is to puree dates – they act as a great binding agent for homemade granola bars – yum!
6. Nuts & Nut Butters
Nuts sure are chalked full with a number of nutrition plus’s! Look for a variety of ways to add them to your diet. You could enjoy some almond butter at a spread (2 tbsp will give you 112 mg of calcium) or make a Tahinini dressing (2 tbsp will give you 128 mg of calcium. You could also enjoy 1/4 cup of almonds for a snack to get 100 mg of calcium. Fortified almond milk would have around 300 mg of calcium, however it’s not a great source of protein – about 1 g/ cup. You’re better off enjoying organic soy milk instead. Don’t be afraid of soy – research has show it actually may prevent certain types of cancers and have a cholesterol lowering effect! That sounds like a pretty good deal to me.
7. Blackstrap Molasses
Blackstrap molasses is a nutritional powerhouse! It contains a significant amount of calcium for 1 tbsp – 180 mg. It’s also a great source of magnesium, iron and B vitamins. Add to hot cereal, tea or in a marinade.