Where to find calcium, in food!
Now that we’ve covered the basics about calcium and why it’s important to incorporate into your daily diet, let’s cover what to do if you’re living dairy-free. Living a dairy-free lifestyle, whether by choice or by need (i.e. lactose intolerance, dairy allergy, etc.), can be just as easy to get your daily-required amount of calcium. There are some foods to keep in mind that are both rich in calcium, dairy-free, and taste delicious.
Let’s talk greens. Since most of us were growing up, many of us were told and preached to “drink your milk for strong bones”; there may be some truth to that, but what about all the other amazing whole foods that contain calcium? I often have clients and readers comment on Nutrition Stripped about their confusion about where to find calcium, as they think calcium is only found in dairy- it’s not! Dark leafy greens are surprisingly good sources of calcium and a group of vegetables not to be dismissed while living dairy-free. Added bonus, green vegetables are also loaded with vitamin K, another component to healthy and strong bones.
Best sources of calcium in dark leafy greens: collard greens, turnip greens, kale, bok choy, mustard greens, watercress, swiss chard, and spinach. Other veggies like okra, rhubarb, and broccoli contain calcium as well.
Some of my favorites include a hefty dose of your daily needs (for most of us): 1 tbs. of blackstrap molasses is 17% DV calcium, 1 cup white beans is 19% DV, and 1 cup cooked turnip greens is 20% DV.
Notable mentions, more foods containing calcium: blackstrap molasses, tofu, soy products, tempeh, tahini/sesame seeds, almonds, navy beans, figs, canned salmon, sardines, seaweeds, and other fortified products.
TIP: when buying calcium-fortified or enriched foods, be sure to shake or stir the contents before using, the calcium settles to the bottom.
A note about oxalates. Oxalic acid, which is found in dark leafy vegetables such as those rich in calcium, bind with calcium, which may reduce the absorption in the body. The main reason to familiarize yourself with oxalate is to be aware with their relationship in calcium-oxalate kidney stones, one of the most common kidney stones. Oxalate isn’t just known for kidney stones, there’s also been conflicting cases (i.e. not enough scientific research) with oxalate and it’s connection to disorders such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, and other inflammatory diseases.
A couple ways to minimize the oxalate content and it’s affects with reducing the calcium absorption, is to cook your greens, eat other foods rich in calcium, and drink plenty of water. If you drink green smoothies be mindful of the oxalate content in the greens you choose to use and add lemon or orange juice to your diet (fresh) if you have any issues with kidney stones. The citric acid will be protective and keep from forming new stones. The majority of us will have no issues eating these foods- so no, you can’t use “oxalates” as an excuse not to eat your greens!
Visit this resource for a great chart on calcium rich foods and their oxalate content.
Try making your own dairy-free milk using one of my favorite seeds, sesame seeds or tahini following my Guide to Nut Milks post. Calcium rich and quite delicious!