Calcium is important for many functions in our bodies. Some of calcium's functions include aiding in building strong bones and teeth, muscle contractions, blood clotting and nerve transmissions.
When we think of calcium, most of us think of dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt. Some people avoid dairy due to a milk allergy or lactose intolerance, while others omit dairy due to dietary preferences. Meeting calcium needs can be a challenge when you are avoiding dairy.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for calcium for males and females over 4 years old ranges from 1,000-1,300 mg/day, depending on age range, gender and pregnancy.
Some non dairy sources of calcium include
Soy milk (calcium fortified)- 300 mg/8 oz
Almond milk (calcium fortified)- 450 mg/8 oz
Sardines (canned with bones)- 325 mg/3 oz
Orange juice (calcium fortified)- 261 mg/6 oz
Tofu (made with calcium sulfate)- 253 mg/ ½ cup
Salmon (canned with bones)- 181 mg/3 oz
Tahini- 130 mg/2 Tbsp
Kale (raw)- 100 mg/1 cup
Sesame seeds- 88 mg/1 Tbsp
Almonds- 75 mg/1 oz
Figs (dried, uncooked)- 70 mg/5 figs
It is important to pay attention to the foods eaten in combination with calcium-rich foods since calcium can bind with oxalates preventing calcium from being absorbed. Oxalates are naturally occurring compounds found in some foods. Spinach, collard greens, sweet potatoes, beans and rhubarb contain oxalates and therefore can inhibit the absorption of calcium.
The amount of calcium absorbed when eating oxalate-containing foods with calcium-containing foods varies and can decrease the amount of calcium absorbed.
In order to increase the absorption of calcium, consume adequate vitamin D. Vitamin D is found naturally in fatty fish and egg yolks. It is also found in fortified foods including fortified soy and almond milks. Our bodies are able to produce Vitamin D when exposed to the sun. However, the amount of Vitamin D we can produce from the sun is dependent upon the time of day, our skin color and our location relative to the sun.
For those who are not able to get enough calcium and vitamin D through diet alone, a dietary supplement may be needed. Calcium supplements are absorbed best when taking 500mg at a time. Two forms of calcium supplements that are available include calcium citrate and calcium carbonate. Calcium citrate can be taken with or without food, and calcium carbonate is absorbed better when taken with food. Always talk to your doctor before starting supplements.
I always recommend food first before supplements, and meeting calcium needs while avoiding dairy does not have to be hard! Try the following suggestions in the portions listed above for 1109 mg of calcium for the day:
Soy milk with breakfast
Almonds as your morning snack
Canned salmon at lunch
Dried figs with your afternoon snack
Tofu made with calcium sulfate with kale and tahini for dinner
Linzy Ziegelbaum, MS, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and owner of the private practice LNZnutrition LLC. She provides nutrition counseling and education to clients of all ages with many nutrition needs. Linzy enjoys sharing her love and nutrition expertise with others through counseling, her LNZnutrition blog and social media pages, including Facebook and Instagram.
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