How much calcium do our bodies need anyway? It is recommended that people between the ages of 19-50 need 1,000 mg of calcium on a daily basis. It is also crucial during adolescence—the recommended intake for ages nine to 18 is 1,300 mg. People over the age of 50 should be getting 1,200 mg of calcium, while postmenopausal women not taking hormone replacement therapy should get 1,500 mg.
As far as obtaining your daily calcium intake from milk, it’s not necessarily the better choice. A cup of milk contains approximately 300 mg of calcium; however, humans barely absorb the calcium from cow’s milk anyway.
It is recommended that organic milk from grass-fed cows should be consumed instead because it is free of growth hormones and antibiotics, and it is less processed, but it’s still cow’s milk and out bodies still have difficulty absorbing it.
Healthy foods that contain calcium not only help you maintain healthy and strong bones and teeth but it helps your blood clot and it also supports proper nerve and muscle function. So where should you get your calcium if not from milk? Vegans, vegetarians (ovo-vegetarians don’t consume dairy), and those who are lactose intolerant or are allergic to dairy won’t even consider milk. Where do they get their calcium? Are there any good dairy sources for your calcium?
Here are five healthy foods that come with a great dose of calcium:
Kale is one of my favorite healthy foods, as it is overloaded with beneficial nutrients. A green smoothie with raw kale contains 90 mg of calcium per cup. If you are preparing a 3.5 cup of kale salad, you will get 315 mg of calcium—more than the amount of calcium you would get from a glass of cow’s milk. Kale should definitely be one of your healthy foods for obtaining your required daily calcium. It also contains manganese and phosphorus which are two other minerals that are important for healthy bones.
Spinach is an excellent course of calcium, containing 244.8 mg per cup. On most occasions you will eat more than one cup, making spinach a better source of calcium than a cup of milk. One cup accounts for 24.5% of your daily value intake. Also, manganese supports growth and development of normal bone structure and joint membranes. Spinach contains 84% of your daily value intake of manganese.
For building or maintaining strong bones, collard greens are an amazing dairy alternative. In just two cups of collard greens you are obtaining 452.2 mg of calcium, nearly 90% of your daily value intake. You drink milk, but who says you can’t drink your greens? Collard greens, spinach, or kale make great options for your daily smoothie. Collard greens also contain vitamin B6 and folic acid which reduce homocysteine levels. Homocysteine has been found to damage bone structure. Collard greens can also be prepared lightly steamed and marinated with lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, honey, dill weed, and sea salt.
Sesame seeds are another great source of calcium. This tiny seed is loaded with the stuff—you’ll see why it’s one of my favorite healthy foods. In just a quarter cup, you get 351 mg of calcium, which trumps a glass of milk. You can easily sprinkle a quarter cup into your salad or spreading tahini (sesame seed paste) onto some whole grain toast. Tahini is a butter-type paste made from ground and hulled sesame seeds, and can be served on its own or can be found within hummus or baba ghanoush.
This healthy food is a great calcium alternative.
For people who can still want to eat dairy products, plain organic yogurt is a very good source of calcium. It contains a whopping 447.4 mg of calcium in one cup. That’s approximately 45% of your daily value intake of calcium in just one shot. Pretty good alternative, isn’t it? Organic grass-fed yogurt from cow’s dairy also contains 35.2% of your daily value of phosphorus, which is a mineral also responsible for the formation and regeneration of bones and teeth.
There are a lot of great healthy foods that are calcium alternatives to milk. A lot of the options I mentioned do not contain dairy, which means there are several good plant-based options available.
Schocker, L., “Surprisingly Calcium-Rich Foods That Aren’t Milk,” The Huffington Post web site, April 25, 2012; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/25/calcium-food-sources_n_1451010.html, last updated April 26, 2012.
Mateljan, G., The World’s Healthiest Foods: Essential Guide for the healthiest way of eating (Seattle: George Mateljan Foundation, 2007), 98, 150, 738.
“Yogurt, grass-fed,” The World’s Healthiest Foods web site; http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=124, last accessed January 8, 2014.