It is fairly known that dairy products have a high content of calcium, meaning that a regular consumption of dairy products will ensure a sufficient calcium intake. But what if you are not consuming dairy? Calcium is important for optimal bone health throughout your life.
In that event, getting the recommended amount of calcium, i.e. 800 mg/day for adults, might prove to be a bit of a challenge. And what if you are lactose intolerant or pregnant – the latter actually requiring a higher amount of calcium. Calcium supplements may be an option if your diet falls short of dairy products. But before considering calcium supplements, we recommend that you read this guide on alternative calcium sources, as your diet is always the recommended way to get calcium.
So if you are up for it, here is a thorough guide to help you optimize your dietary intake of calcium. It also contains some nerdy info and other facts you might find interesting.
Calcium from non-dairy sources
It is always best to get your daily calcium through your diet, but it requires a bit of awareness when not consuming dairy. Luckily for you, calcium can be found in several other foods, such as green vegetables like kale, broccoli and spinach. Water is also a potent calcium source, although it varies depending on the region you live in (“hard water” = more calcium). Another reason to ensure a daily intake of approximately 1½ L water, either as pure water, coffee or tea (water is important for many other reasons but that’s another blog post). Some fish and fish products are also potent calcium sources – especially when fish is consumed whole, i.e. including bones (e.g. sardines). In the bottom of this article we have composed a list of potent calcium alternatives to dairy products. Consulting the list can give you an indication of whether you need to optimize your calcium intake or consider taking a supplement.
Concerns regarding calcium deficiency have lead to the fortification with calcium of different foods. Fortification in this case basically means that the manufacturer adds extra calcium to the product. The addition of calcium to soy and rice milk are common and typically contains 120 mg calcium per 100 g, which is equivalent to the calcium content of cow milk. In some countries, a lot of breads and juices are additionally fortified with calcium. If a product is fortified with calcium (or other nutrients), it will always be stated on the label – so you’ll never be in doubt. Fortified products will be provided with information of the exact content of calcium, which is typically placed on the back of the product in the ingredient list.
If you are lactose intolerant you might consume some of the many lactose-free dairy products that are now on the market. The calcium content is preserved in these products, which makes lactose-free products a great source to achieve a sufficient calcium intake.
Even if you are lactose intolerant, there is a high chance that you can tolerate cheese, as cheese actually has a low content of lactose (except for the Norwegian whey cheese “myseost”). Therefore, cheese can also serve as a good calcium source in your case.
Calcium during pregnancy
There is an extra calcium requirement during pregnancy, resulting in a recommended intake for pregnant women of 900 mg/day, which is easily achieved through consumption of approximately ½ liter of dairy product per day. However, if you are pregnant and not consuming dairy products, you should take a daily supplement of 500 mg calcium throughout the entire pregnancy, as calcium is essential for you and your child’s bone health.
Vitamin D enhances the calcium absorption
Make sure you get enough vitamin D to ensure optimal calcium absorption in your body. This is especially important during the winter months in for instance a Nordic country, as vitamin D is not produced sufficiently in the skin due to the lack of sun. Adults are recommended a daily vitamin D intake of 10 microgram.
Do I need supplements?
Perhaps you already looked at the list in the bottom and identified some of the non-dairy calcium sources that you consume on a regular basis. However, if you have a low intake of green leafy vegetables, cereals and fish, you should consider whether to take a calcium supplement, as reaching the recommended daily amount of calcium could be challenging. However, a lot of products such as rice milk, soymilk and almond milk are fortified with calcium, which might provide you with sufficient amounts of calcium. And remember – lattes and cappuccinos also count when considering your dairy intake.
List of non-dairy calcium sources
As promised, we have composed a thorough list of potent non-dairy calcium sources below (Amounts provided in approximate measures):
1½ L water = 180 mg calcium
Vegetables and fruit
100 g curly kale = 219 mg calcium
100 g spinach = 129 mg calcium
100 g broccoli = 44 mg calcium
100 g carrots = 36 mg calcium
20 g dried figs = 39 mg calcium
70 g boiled chick peas (35 g dried) = 43 mg calcium
35 g lentils (dried) = 19 mg calcium
35 g white beans (dried) = 43 mg calcium
35 g soy beans (dried) = 55 mg calcium
Nuts and seeds
15 g almonds = 38 mg calcium
15 g hazel nuts = 21 mg calcium
10 g sesame seeds = 96 mg calcium
10 g linseed = 20 mg calcium
50 g rye bread (1 slice) = 38 mg calcium
55 g rolled oats (medium portion) = 99 mg calcium
25 g sardines = 105 mg calcium
25 g anchovy = 36 mg calcium
Still curious on the calcium content of common foods?
The Technical University of Denmark (DTU) has made an online database, where you can check the contents and concentrations, calcium included, for almost all foods. Check it out here: frida.fooddata.dk (both Danish and English language option!).