Your body needs calcium to keep your bones and teeth strong and healthy. It also plays a vital role in blood clotting, muscular contraction, and even the transmission of messages by your nerves. What’s more, the body actually loses calcium every single day through nails, skin, hair, urine, feces, and sweat, so you need to keep up a regular daily intake.1
Unless you were lactose intolerant, you probably grew up being told to “drink your milk,” largely because of the calcium in it. Calcium is one of those nutrients you just can’t do without – your body would quite literally crumble under the burden of weak bones and malfunctioning muscles and nerves without it. And while fortified foods or supplement may seem like the easiest way to up your calcium intake, that may not be the best route. Which is why, whether you love dairy or are vegan, we’ve lined up a list of calcium-rich foods to help you stay healthy and well nourished.
You can get all the calcium your body needs through a normal healthy diet that incorporates these dietary sources of calcium.
1. Milk: An Easy Way To Consume Calcium
The average cup of milk can give you about a third of your daily calcium requirement. Exact numbers will vary depending on the kind of milk and how it is treated as well as if it is in some way fortified. But whether you’re having skim, low fat, or whole milk, a cup full of plain milk should get you around 300 mg of the nutrient. 2 The good thing with drinking your calcium is that it is hassle-free and easily done in the busiest of lives with minimal fuss.
If drinking milk straight up sounds dreadfully monotonous to you, you can whip it up into delicious smoothies with some heart-healthy nuts and oats or fresh fruit. And when you’re feeling like a treat, indulge in a cup of warming chocolate milk or hot cocoa in autumn and winter, or cool down with a chilled cold chocolate on a hot summer’s day.
There’s a sneaky way to get in your calcium just on those off days when you aren’t meeting your numbers – just keep a jar of non-fat milk powder at home. A single tablespoon of it contains around 50 mg of calcium. Plus, it melts easily away into desserts or main meals or even a beverage. Just be warned that it does have calories and sugar, which might mean it is off the cards for diabetics or weight watchers.3
2. Yogurt: Gives You Calcium With A Probiotic Boost
Plenty has been said about the importance of a healthy gut with the right balance of good bacteria. Probiotics can give the good guys – the good gut flora/bacteria – the leg up they need. And yogurt has become the poster child for probiotic foods.4 But let’s not forget, yogurt is also a wonderful dairy source of calcium and a pleasant alternative to milk. A 6 oz cup of plain skim milk yogurt gives you a whopping 338 mg of calcium.5
Try having your breakfast cereal or muesli with yogurt and some fresh berries or honey for sweetness. Or eat a cup of yogurt plain as a snack. Sprinkle over some nuts for added calcium. Or make a Greek-style yogurt sauce like tzatziki to go with your protein at mealtime. There’s plenty you can do with yogurt!
3. Beans And Legumes: A Way For Vegans To Get Their Calcium
Vegans sometimes struggle to find good non-dairy sources of calcium in their diet. Even if you aren’t constrained by a need for vegan sources, variety always helps! And that’s where the wide range of dried beans and legumes can be a delightful departure from the routine milks – both dairy and nondairy. A cup of uncooked red kidney beans, for instance, has about 359 mg of calcium, navy beans have 306 mg, and mung beans have 273 mg.6 While that sounds like a lot, remember, you’ll be eating them cooked. A cup of legumes, which is about as much as you’d have in a normal serve at a main meal, would give you 30 to 100 mg of calcium depending on what kind of legume you use. Eat a cup full of cooked garbanzo beans and you’ll be getting 80 mg of calcium. A cup of pinto beans should contain 75 mg of the nutrient.7
4. Soy Beans, Soy Milk, And Tofu: Enjoy The Variety, All Dairy-Free!
If you like soy, you’ll be spoilt for choice. One of the more established dairy substitutes for cheese and milk, tofu and soy milk line the aisles at most supermarkets today. Pick from plain unflavored soy milk or go wild with the more sinful flavored options. Flavored soymilk with added calcium has around 199 mg of calcium in a cupful. Tofu, a staple of Asian larders, lends itself to stir fries and salads and even desserts, with 4 oz of the regular kind packing in 120 to 390 mg of calcium. Buy the firm, set calcium-enriched tofu and you stand to get anywhere from 250 to 750 mg of the nutrient. Even plain soybeans boiled are a great option – just half a cup of the boiled beans contain 100 mg of calcium.8 Yes, that much!
5. Fish: Don’t Forget To Chew The Calcium-Rich Bones
Fish is another delicious route to dietary calcium. Just be sure to pick varieties that have soft bones that you can crunch into. This way, you tap into the calcium goodness in the bones as well. Salmon and sardines are a popular way to go.9 Eat 2 oz serving of sardines and that’s 340 mg of calcium ticked off!10 A 3 oz serving of pink canned salmon will give you around 241 mg of calcium.11
6. Greens All The Way: Spinach And Collard Greens Have Calcium Too
Those green leafy vegetables you give a wide berth to should feature more on your list – especially if you’re a vegan. A cup of boiled collard greens has about 357 mg of calcium. Even a head of the humble iceberg lettuce has 97 mg.12 Just half a cup of boiled turnip greens give you 99 mg of calcium, while a cup of cooked kale has 94 mg.13
7. Nuts And Dried Fruit: Your All-Natural Calcium Supplement
Squirrel away some nuts in your pantry, because they’re another simple way to up your calcium intake. If you like almonds, having around 10 nuts will supply you with 53 mg of calcium. Alternatively, add some sweetness to your day with a couple of dried figs. Just two dried figs have 92 mg calcium between them. Don’t be tempted to have more though, because they are also full of sugar.14 And because they’re so easy to store and eat, it will be as easy as stocking and eating a dietary supplement – but all natural and so much better!
8. Cheese Gives You Variety
No list of calcium-rich foods would be complete without a mention of cheese. If you’re a cheese lover, this is a perfect route to those daily calcium numbers. You can eat cheese in so many different ways if variety is what you crave for – plain, with nuts or fruit and crackers, as a snack with a refreshing glass of wine, or added to your souffles, sauces, spreads, and even soups.
Pick from your favorites – an ounce of Brie has 50 mg of calcium, an ounce of hard cheddar has 200 mg; mozzarella contains 200 mg and Swiss cheese or Gruyere has 270 mg. Even that little tablespoon of parmesan you grate over your pasta gives you 70 mg of calcium.15
9. Algae: Explore The Unusual With Kelp!
If this particular dietary source of calcium has you startled, don’t be! Some kinds of algae can actually be quite delicious and safe to eat. When it comes to calcium levels, kelp makes a great, albeit unusual choice.16 While you can simply rinse and use fresh kelp, soak for a while if it is dried kelp. It makes a great addition to an Asian stirfry as well as smoothies and soups.
10. Cruciferous Veggies: Cabbage And Broccoli Power
Some cruciferous vegetables like broccoli or cabbage are a great source of calcium.17 Versatile and easy to cook as mains or sides, you can steam them, stir fry, lightly blanch for using in warm salads, or even enjoy them raw. Half a cup of raw broccoli has around 21 mg of calcium, while a cup of raw Chinese cabbage or bok choi contains 74 mg.18
|↑1||Calcium/Vitamin D. National Osteoporosis Foundation.|
|↑2, ↑7, ↑8, ↑15||Calcium Content of Foods. UCSF Medical Center.|
|↑3||Calcium/Vitamin D. National Osteoporosis Foundation.|
|↑4||Parvez, S., K. A. Malik, S. Ah Kang, and H‐Y. Kim. “Probiotics and their fermented food products are beneficial for health.” Journal of applied microbiology 100, no. 6 (2006): 1171-1185.|
|↑5, ↑6, ↑11||USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28 Nutrient Calcium. The National Agricultural Library.|
|↑9||Calcium. U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑10, ↑14||Calcium Counts!. British Nutrition Foundation.|
|↑12||Calcium Sources in Food. Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.|
|↑13, ↑18||Calcium. Office of Dietary Supplements.|
|↑16, ↑17||Calcium.University of Maryland Medical Center.|