Non-dairy calcium sources
Non-dairy calcium sources
Where do you get calcium from if not from dairy?
By Heather Smith, Nourish Nutrition and Lifestyle Coaching
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about calcium? I have to admit that for me, it’s the wildly successful ‘Got Milk?’ ads of the 90s featuring all those celebrities sporting a thick milk moustache worthy of the smile they’re also wearing. I grew up with the idea that a tall glass of milk wasn’t just good for dunking biscuits, but it was also the best way to meet your calcium needs. Today, however, the answer to the ‘got milk?’ question could easily be ‘no’ for many. The dairy industry seems to have fallen out of favour with many health conscious people for various reasons – intolerances, allergies and lifestyle choices such as veganism or paleo. So if you’re avoiding dairy, do you know where to get your calcium? Before you answer that question, let’s take a closer look at this amazing mineral.
WHY DO WE NEED CALCIUM?
Calcium is one of the most essential minerals in the body and the one we associate with strong bones and teeth. In fact, 99 per cent of our calcium is stored there and is responsible for skeletal hardness and structure. But calcium also plays key roles in:
- regulating contraction and relaxation of muscles;
- regulating our heartbeat and blood pressure;
- transmission of nervous system messages;
- blood clotting;
- hormone regulation; and
- enzyme function.
SO HOW MUCH DO WE ACTUALLY NEED?
While calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, we have to maintain levels through dietary intakes to ensure our needs can be met and that our body doesn’t pull it from our bones when our levels get too low (think bone fractures and osteoporosis). Calcium intakes prior to the age of 30 is really important as bone development slows down after this. Think of this as your savings account of calcium. While it may not prevent osteoporosis later, it lays some pretty sturdy foundations. Recommended daily intakes of calcium for Australians are:
1-3 > 500mg/day
4-8 > 700mg/day
9-11 > 1,000mg/day
12-18 > 1,300mg/day
19-50 > 1,000mg/day
51+ > 1,300mg/day
19-70 > 1,000mg/day
71+ > 1,300mg/day
IF NOT FROM DAIRY, THEN WHERE?
Just because milk was the first thing I thought of doesn’t mean it’s the best source. There is strong, ongoing debate on both sides of the health fence to the benefits of dairy consumption. In terms of calcium and bone health, a number of studies over the last decade have shown that milk consumption doesn’t actually reduce the risk of fractures or osteoporosis and that the proteins found in milk may actually promote the loss of calcium from bone. To top it off, our body only absorbs about 33 per cent of the calcium in milk. Aside from that particular debate, there is agreement that calcium is necessary for health and luckily there are plenty of food sources to help you meet your calcium needs. Because not all calcium we consume will actually be absorbed, eating a variety of calcium-rich foods is the best way to ensure you’re getting enough from your diet. Some of my favourite wholefood sources are:
- Fish with edible bones (tinned fish such as sardines, wild salmon, anchovies, mackerel) – their bones are good for your bones! Tinned salmon contains 402mg per half a tin. Look for sustainably fished and BPA-free packaging.
- Dried figs – 55mg in two figs.
- Sesame seeds (tahini in particular because who doesn’t love it?) – 88mg per tablespoon.
- Almonds – 40mg per 15 almonds.
- Kale (is there anything it can’t do?) – 100mg per cup, raw.
- Bok choy – 74mg per cup.
- Broccoli – 24mg per half a cup (which may not sound like much, but the absorption is high).
- Black-eyed peas (no, not the band) – 185mg per half a cup.
- White beans (cannellini, navy) – 190mg per cup.
- Blackstrap molasses – 172mg per tablespoon.
FRIENDS AND FOES
Relationships between nutrients are like most—some support while others hinder. Let’s start with the foes – sodium, caffeine, phosphorous (high in protein-rich foods), oxalic acid (found in greens like spinach) and phytates (found in nuts, grains, legumes) can all hinder calcium absorption or increase loss. You can reduce oxalates by cooking and phytates by soaking or activating, but we’ll save that for another blog post. On the friend side is Vitamin D – actually required for calcium absorption. If you’re missing out on sunshine (as most Victorians do), be sure to get your D levels checked and supplement where needed before your body pulls calcium from your bones to use it elsewhere.
A quick word of caution regarding calcium supplementation: too much calcium can be as hazardous as too little. There are some safety concerns regarding calcium supplements, so be sure to check with your health practitioner to determine if you need supplementation first. Wholefood sources (in the absence of deficiencies) are the best ways to give the body what it needs.
Heather Smith is a Nutritionist and Coach passionate about whole food and the nourishment it provides. She believes that healthy, nutritious food is also the best tasting food and is committed to inspiring, motivating and encouraging clients to achieve their personal best and be positive about themselves and the choices they make.
Heather and Nourish Nutrition and Lifestyle Coaching are a part of the Nourish Melbourne Community. Heather offers Nourish Melbourne Members $20 off their initial consult fee and 10% of follow up appointments, ongoing (excludes supplementation). Click here to find out more about our partnership, or click here to find out more about becoming a Nourish Melbourne Member.