When you think of calcium, you think of dairy. When you think of dairy you think of calcium… or some delicious creamy sauce or cheese. But what if you are needing to be dairy free?

There are a lot of reasons why people have to be dairy free and why people choose to be dairy free from food allergies to intolerances, to the love of animals. But since dairy has been marketed to be the go-to for calcium, can you meet calcium needs without having dairy as part of your everyday diet?

Let’s take a look at why we need calcium, what dairy-free foods contain high amounts of calcium, and then let’s look at the recommended amount of calcium intake to see what that would look like throughout the day.

Why Do We Need Calcium?

BONE HEALTH: No doubt one of the most important reasons to regularly intake calcium is for our bone health. Calcium is stored in the bones and teeth. Interestingly, that storage takes place before your are about 30 years old. After that, what calcium you’ve been able to put in the “savings account” of your bones, is all you’ll be able to save. After 30 it’s maintaining what you have and trying not to deplete your savings. Regularly intaking calcium is essential.

HEART FUNCTION: Calcium is a key contributor to your heart contracting to pump blood. It’s one of the key minerals for blood pressure control.

NERVE FUNCTION: Like with the heart, being a muscle, calcium helps fire cell signals to contract muscles to get you moving.

Dairy Free Sources of Calcium

With any nutrient, being able to get calcium through the food we eat is the best way, unless prescribed by your doctor for one reason or another. So how can we meet calcium needs if we are dairy free?

  • CANNED SARDINES OR SALMON
    • with bones
  • CALCIUM-FORTIFIED DAIRY FREE SUBSTITUTES
    • If it is fortified with calcium, it should say it on the front, but you can always check the nutrition label to see the calcium content.
  • FORTIFIED ORANGE JUICE
    • Not all orange juice will include calcium, but like with the other fortified products, it usually will say something on the front of the carton, or you can always check the nutrition label on the back.
  • FIRM TOFU
    • made with calcium sulfate. Again, you can always check the nutrition label and ingredients.
  • GREENS
    • kale, turnip greens, collard greens
  • BROCCOLI OR CABBAGE
  • FIGS
  • FORTIFIED CEREALS AND ENGLISH MUFFINS
    • you can always check the back, but look at cereals like Total, Raisin Bran, Cherrios, etc. A lot of cereals now will have on average at least 10% or 130mg of calcium per serving.
  • BEANS
    • Garbanzo beans, white beans, kidney beans, navy beans, etc.
  • SEEDS
    • Seeds are known to be little nutrient powerhouses. Some that are high in calcium would be poppy, sesame, celery, and chia seeds.

You can see without even the fortified foods listed, there is a wide variety of foods, no matter your “beet”, that you can find and add to meals to provide you with your calcium needs. But what does it look like throughout the day?

Calcium Needs and What It Looks Like Throughout the Day

Below is the chart of Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for calcium. RDA means that this is the average daily level of intake sufficient to meet nutrient requirements of nearly all (97%+) healthy individuals.

So numbers is great and all, but how does that translate into food? Let’s look at the higher end of the RDA, 1300mg of calcium, (which would be the needs of a growing teen) and what that would look like throughout the day for a dairy free person with a few options:

Photo by Deena Englard on Unsplash

BREAKFAST:

380mg: Fortified Cereal with Fortified Plant Based Milk

  • 1 Serving Fortified Cereal, average 130mg
    • Calcium Fortified cereals can range from 10% to 100% RDA, for this we will take the lower since most will have about 130mg or 10%. It’s better to get your calcium throughout the day than all at once since your body can only absorb so much at a time.
  • 1 Cup Calcium Fortified Plant Based Milk, average 250mg

320mg: Scrambled eggs, sauteed broccoli, and a toasted English Muffin

  • 2 Eggs, 50 mg
  • 1 Cup Cooked Broccoli, 180mg
  • English Muffin enriched with Calcium Propionate, 102mg

335mg: Tofu scramble with Black Beans and Satueed Broccoli on the side

  • Tofu, 1 cup, 130mg
  • Cooked Black Beans, 1/2 cup, 25mg
  • 1 cup cooked Broccoli, 180mg

310mg: High Calcium Plant Based Yogurt topped with Fruit and Chia Seeds

  • High Calcium Plant Based Yogurt, average 130mg
    • Depends on the brand. Plant Based yogurts can range from 1% (13mg) calcium to 20% (260mg) calcium depending on the brand. Always read your labels.
    • Chia Seeds, 1 tbsp, 180mg
Photo by Deryn Macey on Unsplash

LUNCH

449mg: Large Kale and Spinach Salad with your choice of protein and dressing

  • Kale, 1 cup, 177mg
  • Spinach, 2 cups, 272mg
  • **If using something like 1 cup garbanzo beans (86mg) 3/4 cup extra firm tofu (380mg) as protein, calcium intake will increase.

446mg: Sandwich of choice including 1 cup spinach, side of high calcium plant based yogurt with fruit and chia seeds

  • Spinach, 1 cup, 136mg
  • High Calcium Plant Based Yogurt, average 130mg
    • Depends on the brand. Plant Based yogurts can range from 1% (13mg) calcium to 20% (260mg) calcium depending on the brand. Always read your labels.
    • Chia Seeds, 1 tbsp, 180mg

358-434mg: Canned Salmon Salad, like tuna salad, (or smashed garbanzo bean salad, different info below) on top of, or in a wrap with with fresh spinach. Include crackers as a side, carrot sticks, etc.

  • Canned Salmon, 1/2 alone, 162mg
  • Garbanzo Beans, 1 cup, 86mg
  • Spinach, 2 cups, 272mg
Photo by Brenda Godinez on Unsplash

SNACKS

  • 155mg: Edamame, 1 cup
  • 75mg: Raw Almonds, 1oz or 20-25 almonds
  • 102mg: English Muffin, Enriched with Calcium Propionate, Toasted with Jam
  • 234mg: Chia Seed Pudding using 2 Tbsp chia seeds
  • 130mg: High Calcium Plant Based Yogurt ***Read Your Labels!
Photo by Michele Krozser from Burst

DINNER

426mg: Veggie Stir Fry including Broccoli & Bok Choy with choice of protein, topped with sesame seeds with/without brown rice

  • Broccoli, 2 cups, 180mg
  • Bok Choy, 1 cup cooked, 158mg
  • Sesame Seeds, 1 tbsp, 88mg
  • Adding Brown Rice, 1 cup, +20mg
  • **If using something like 1 cup garbanzo beans (86mg) 3/4 cup extra firm tofu (380mg) as protein, calcium intake will increase.

484mg: Salmon Burger with any sides, bun, toppings you want.

  • 1 Burger Patty using canned salmon, 484mg
  • Adding coleslaw or using spinach with the burger will add more.

431mg: White Bean and Kale Chili, depends on recipe, but usually will contain ground turkey. Vegetarian version, add more beans, with veggies, crackers, etc.

  • White Beans Cooked, 2 cups, 252mg
    • *Possibly more with the serving if using more beans for vegetarian version.
  • Kale Cooked, 1 cup, 179mg

BOTTOM LINE

A calcium rich diet that is dairy free is possible! To do it you do need to do a few things:

  • Educate yourself on the foods naturally rich in, fortified, or enriched with calcium.
  • ALWAYS read your labels, especially with plant based yogurts and know the brands you like and give you what you need. Still check the labels since they can change the formula and the nutrient aspect can change.
  • Spread out your calcium intake throughout the day if you can. Your body only absorbs so much at a time, so eating calcium rich foods throughout the day is best.

Keep finding you beet and I’ll see you tomorrow with a dairy-free cheese sauce and soon to come queso recipe.

SPOILER: The cheese sauce uses calcium-rich white beans. If you want to see both recipes in action, the YouTube video will be up tomorrow that will show both the cheese sauce and the queso! The queso recipe will be coming later this week to the blog.

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