One cup of milk contains 300 mg of calcium. Many people today think that dairy products are the only way to get calcium in one’s diet. But did you know that there are other food source sources that can give the same amount or more calcium per serving than traditional dairy products? So, if you’re looking at alternate dairy sources to get your 800mg to 1200mg of RDA of calcium or if you’re just tired of drinking milk to get your daily dose of calcium, read on.
[pullquote]Consuming more calcium has no co-relation with having stronger or healthier bones. More than the intake of calcium, the absorption of calcium is important.[/pullquote]
Why is Calcium Important?
Calcium plays an essential role in maintaining bone density, regulating blood pressure stability and preventing insulin resistance (which could lead to Type 2 diabetes). According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), the body maintains a constant level of calcium in the body fluid to support functions like muscle contraction, blood vessel contraction and expansion, the secretion of hormones and enzymes, and sending messages through the nervous system. But the calcium in your body fluids and muscles account for only about 1% of the total calcium in your body. The rest of it is stored in the bones and teeth, where it provides structural support and acts as a bank from which calcium is repeatedly withdrawn and deposited.
The most important time for building up calcium is during childhood, where there is a higher amount of bone formation and less breakdown. During adulthood, these processes are more equal, and then during later years, the breakdown takes over as the predominate process, which leads to weakening of the bones.
Adults must consume 1000mg of calcium per day. Women between the ages of 19-50 are supposed to get 1000 milligrams of calcium a day. Women older than 50 need to get 1,200 milligrams of calcium a day.
Why Should I Eat Non-Dairy Sources of Calcium?
.More Calcium is not equal to Healthy Bones: Consuming more calcium has no co-relation with having stronger or healthier bones. More than the intake of calcium, the absorption of calcium is important. For instance, in one cup of milk, 32% calcium is absorbed by the body, whereas a green leafy vegetable like Bok choy, gives calcium a higher absorption rate (40-70%). Almonds have a 21% absorption rate, beans average on a 17% and spinach (because of higher oxalate levels) trails at a 5% absorption rate.
Scientific Study: One Yale study, analysed 34 published studies from 16 countries, and found that the countries with people who consumed the highest levels of dairy and animal-based products, actually had the highest levels of osteoporosis.
They also found that South Africans’ daily calcium intake was only 196mg and yet they were only nine times less likely to suffer hip fractures than their American counterparts.
This study highlights the fact that other factors (like high sugar or protein intakes, sedentary lifestyle) play an important part in calcium metabolism, including the absorption and excretion of calcium to maintain strong bones and a healthy body.
Excretion or Losses: Excessive dietary protein and sodium also increase calcium losses in the urine; this aspect of calcium metabolism is largely ignored. Medications such as antacids containing aluminium have been shown to increase calcium excretion. That’s why most people who are consuming the Standard American Diet and meeting their daily calcium goals may still have inadequate calcium balance due to losses from excessive protein and sodium intakes.
Dependent on Dairy: Getting your daily intake of calcium only from dairy sources may often result in constipation and negatively impact absorption, production and metabolism of other nutrients in your body.
Acidic Dairy: Food sources like yogurt, cheese and Ice cream are acidic, the body actually needs a slightly alkaline pH to function. To neutralize the acidity taken from dairy, the body has to derive calcium from your bones. This is the reason that there are higher Hip fracture rates in the U.S and Northern European countries where their calcium consumption, comes mostly from dairy products.
These points highlight that fact that bone health does not solely depend only on calcium intake. Minerals and Vitamin D play an important role as well. Minerals like manganese, zinc, strontium, boron, copper and magnesium are found in whole foods and provide micro nutrients important for calcium metabolism. Eating a varied food source will help in calcium assimilation which otherwise would be limited if you’re dependent only on dairy for your calcium intake.
Non-Dairy Sources of Calcium
Tofu 350 mg per ½ cup serving
Prunes 40 mg per 2 prunes
Tapioca 300 mg per ½ cup serving
Sardines 888mg per 1can
Chia seeds 300 mg per 1.5 ounces serving
Mustard greens 120 mg per 2 cups
Collard greens 210 mg per ½ cup serving
Orange 70 mg (medium size)
Kale 205 mg per ½ cup serving
Salmon 882 mg per 1 can
Bok Choy 190 mg per ½ cup serving
Figs 135 mg per 5 fig serving
Blackstrap Molasses 172 mg per 1 tbsp.
White Beans 120 mg per ½ cup serving
Chinese cabbage 74 mg per 1 cup
Black-eyes peas 185 mg per ½ cup canned
Turnip Greens 104 mg per ½ cup serving
Broccoli 80 mg per 2 cups
Spinach 99 mg per ½ cup serving
Seaweed 126 mg per 1 cup
Almonds 93 mg per ¼ cup serving
Arugula 60 mg per 2 cups
Sesame Seeds 51 mg per 1 tablespoon serving
Almond milk 300 mg per 8 oz.
Few Tips to maximize calcium intake
.Get ample amount of Vitamin D: Vitamin D helps improve calcium absorption. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, “for bone health, an adequate intake of vitamin D is no less important than calcium.” Food sources of vitamin D include cod liver oil, salmon, mackerel, tuna, and fortified breakfast cereals. According to the NIH, ten to fifteen minutes of sun exposure at least two times per week to the face, arms, hands, or back (without sunscreen) is usually sufficient to provide adequate vitamin D
.Cut back on salt: Increased sodium causes your body to compensate by pulling more calcium from your bones to maintain balance.
.Increase vegetable consumption: In addition to their calcium content, many vegetables and fruits are good sources of potassium. According to the NIH, potassium may help decrease calcium excretion in people who eat high sodium diets, particularly in postmenopausal women.
.Balanced protein: The body’s reaction to excess protein can weaken bones. If you’re on a high-protein diet, be doubly sure you’re getting the recommended amount of calcium daily, at least 1,000 mg.
.Exercise regularly: Weight-bearing exercises like walking, step-aerobics, running, and hiking put stress on your bones, causing your body to make the bones stronger.
You can include these calcium-rich food sources in your diet by just adding them in your stew or soups (like beans and legumes) or by using almond butter, hummus in your wraps and spreads. Whether you use them as toppings, main dishes or appetizers, these food sources will make a great addition for your food plate and also ensure you are getting your daily dose of calcium without missing out on other essential micro and macro-nutrients.