If you’re lactose-intolerant, or have chosen not to consume dairy products, you might need to know how to get enough calcium in your diet without milk or dairy products. The US Recommended Daily Allowance of calcium is 1,000-1,200 mg for adults. Fortunately, calcium is widely available through nondairy sources, including leafy greens, beans and canned fish. Being mindful of your diet will ensure that you get the calcium you need. Making certain lifestyle choices will help your body use your calcium intake for your best health.
Eat your greens.
Dark, leafy greens such as collards, turnip greens, spinach and kale are rich in calcium. In fact, collards are one of the best sources of calcium in all foods, with a whopping 268 milligrams (27% of your daily needs) of calcium in one cup of cooked greens.
Collards are also low in oxalates, which can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb calcium.
Leafy greens are also rich in other nutrients, including vitamin A, potassium, iron, and vitamin C.
Include plenty of seeds in your diet.
Chia seeds are a powerful source of calcium, packing 177 milligrams (18% of your daily needs) of calcium into two tablespoons of seeds. Simply adding a tablespoon or two of chia seeds into your morning smoothie will ensure that you’re receiving your daily intake of calcium.
Sesame seeds are also full of calcium, which contain 88 milligrams (9 percent of your daily needs) per tablespoon.
If you’re not used to including seeds in your diet, start by sprinkling them on vegetables, or adding them to smoothies.
Tahini, or sesame seed paste, is another terrific source of calcium.
Add seaweed to your diet.
Seaweed is a good source of calcium, fiber and iodine. The most calcium-dense variety of seaweed is hijiki, which contains nearly one and a half times the recommended daily allowance of calcium in a ¼ cup serving.
In general, dried seaweed contains 4-7% calcium by weight, so in order to get the US Recommended Daily Allowance of approximately 1,000mg, you would require only about a tablespoon or two.
Fresh seaweed contains more water, and consequently less calcium by weight, but can still be a good source of your daily calcium.
Eat more canned fish.
Canned fish is precooked, so requires little preparation. Canned fish is an excellent source of calcium in your diet because of the soft fish bones that are found in canned fish. For example, pink salmon and sardines are rich in calcium, Omega 3s, and vitamin D.
Canned mackerel is another fish that’s less familiar to most people, but contains just as much calcium as canned salmon.
You can include canned fish in tasty casseroles, sandwich fillings, soups and salads.
Sweeten with blackstrap molasses.
Two tablespoons of blackstrap molasses contain 400 milligrams of calcium. It’s also rich in other minerals, such as iron, magnesium, manganese and potassium.
You should be aware that regular molasses, including sorghum molasses, doesn’t contain calcium.
Replace sugar with 1-2 tablespoons of blackstrap molasses to increase your calcium intake. For example, try using molasses in your coffee or baked goods.
Snack on dried figs.
Figs are an excellent source of calcium, and dried figs are available year-round. Eight to 10 dried figs contain as much calcium as one glass of milk. They’re also an excellent source of iron, fiber and potassium.
You can enjoy dried figs on salads, in smoothies, or softened in your morning bowl of oatmeal.
Figs are also a good source of antioxidants.
Eat more white beans.
White beans, such as navy beans, chickpeas, or other white legumes, contain a healthy supply of calcium. A one-cup serving of baked beans, for example, contains 102 milligrams of calcium.
These foods also contain magnesium, which works together with calcium to build bone in your body.
Because it’s made from soy beans, white tofu is another good source of calcium.
Avoid excess salt.
The calcium in bones will slowly dissolve into the bloodstream, before passing through the kidneys into the urine. Sodium (or salt) in the foods you eat will increase calcium loss.
By reducing your sodium intake to under two grams per day, you’ll retain your intake of calcium better.
Avoid salty snack foods and canned goods with added sodium. Rinse your canned vegetables well, as they’re stored in a salty brine.
Do not use salt before, during, or after cooking.
Use non-dairy milk alternatives.
Soy milk, rice milk, hemp seed and almond milk all have a high level of calcium. Check their labels to compare the calcium levels in each.
Make sure you shake the carton well, as the calcium tends to settle at the bottom.
Many juices contain added calcium. Look for the labels that advertise calcium.
Along with many other health risks, smoking is associated with osteoporosis caused in part by the body’s inefficient processing of calcium. Smoking prevents your bones from absorbing calcium. Vitamin D helps your body process calcium, but smoking interferes with this process of absorption. Less calcium is then available to help build bones, and your bones will start to become brittle.
Smoking after the age of 30 will speed up your naturally-occurring loss of bone mass.
People who are exposed to secondhand smoke in childhood are at an increased risk of developing low bone mass.
Get enough vitamin D.
Vitamin D supports your body’s efficient use of calcium. Current recommendations include receiving 15 minutes per day of direct sunlight without sunscreen to naturally produce enough vitamin D.
If you get little sun exposure or are at high risk for skin cancers, you can get vitamin D from most multivitamins and fortified foods. While doctors aren’t yet sure of the optimal dose of vitamin D, teens and adults may safely take up to 4,000 IU per day. Talk to your doctor before taking any supplements.
Many people are deficient in vitamin D without knowing it. Consider getting your vitamin D levels checked at your next doctor’s appointment.
Maintain a regular exercise routine.
Active people tend to keep calcium in their bones, while sedentary people lose calcium as they age. Combine strength training with weight-bearing exercises, such as walking or jogging, for maximum benefits to your bones. Weight-bearing exercises strengthen your lower body – your legs, hips, and lower spine – while strength training helps build the bones in your arms and upper spine.
By keeping your bones healthy, you’ll be increasing your body’s ability to process the calcium it takes in.
Swimming, cycling, and exercising on machines provide great aerobic workouts, but are less effective for strengthening bones.
Don’t drink too much.
Research suggests that excessive drinking of alcohol can interfere with the body’s use of calcium, particularly in adults younger than age 35. Moderate drinking (one drink per day) doesn’t appear to have any negative consequences.
Chronic alcoholism weakens the body’s bones, preventing them from proper absorption of calcium.
People who drink alcohol are more than 75% more likely to smoke than nondrinkers. However, research is still inconclusive on whether or not the combination of lifestyle factors is more detrimental than just one or the other.