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11 Dairy-Free Calcium Sources

No Dairy? No Problem!
  -- By Liza Barnes, Health Educator
When I was a wee tot, I frequently had stomach pains that were once bad enough to warrant a trip to the emergency room. Everything looked fine according to the doctor, but my pains continued. Finally, an allergist diagnosed me with a milk allergy, and as soon as I stopped eating dairy, my symptoms disappeared. They said I might outgrow my allergy someday, but for the time-being I had a new problem. How would I get enough calcium if I wasn’t drinking any milk? Many people face a similar dilemma, whether they are forced to give up dairy because of an allergy, or because they choose to for other reasons.

There’s no doubt that calcium is essential. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the body maintains a constant level of calcium in the body fluid to support the many body functions for which calcium is necessary, including muscle contraction, blood vessel contraction and expansion, the secretion of hormones and enzymes, and sending messages through the nervous system. That means it’s needed to keep your heart beating and your muscles functioning, among other things. But the calcium in body fluids and muscles accounts for only about 1% of the total calcium in your body. The rest of it is stored in the bones and teeth, where it provides structural support and acts as a sort of “savings account” from which calcium is repeatedly withdrawn and deposited.

Although calcium intake is important throughout the life, the most important time for building up this savings account balance is during childhood, when there is a higher amount of bone formation and less breakdown. During adulthood, these processes are more equal, and then during later years, the breakdown takes over as the predominate process, which leads to weakening of the bones. <pagebreak>

So what’s a kid (or anyone) who doesn’t drink milk to do? Get calcium from any of the many other places it can be found. You can find calcium in many plant-based foods, from almonds to tofu. Here is a list of some calcium-containing foods that are dairy-free, with the amount of calcium you’ll find in a single serving.

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Here’s how much calcium you’ll find in a single serving of each of the foods above.

Food Serving Size Calcium
Collard greens 1 cup, boiled 357 mg
Fortified soymilk 1 cup 368 mg
Black-eyed peas 1 cup, boiled 211 mg
Firm tofu (made with calcium sulfate) 1/2 cup 204 mg
Calcium-fortified orange juice 6 oz 200 mg
Blackstrap molasses 1 Tbsp 172 mg
Baked beans 1 cup, canned 154 mg
Kale 1 cup, cooked 94 mg
Chinese cabbage 1 cup, raw 74 mg
Oranges 1 cup 72 mg
Almonds 1 oz 70 mg

<pagebreak> Here are some tips on how to incorporate many of these foods into your diet to increase your calcium intake:
If you’re not regularly eating enough of these foods to meet your calcium needs, you may want to consider a calcium supplement. After you consult your doctor to make sure this is right for you, your next step is choosing a supplement. Here are some guidelines that will help you:
In addition to eating the right foods and/or supplementing, there are a few other tips everyone should follow, whether eating dairy or not, to keep their bones strong. Turns out there are lots of good (and tasty) ways to get calcium and to grow and support your bones without dairy, which is good news for me, because I never did outgrow that dairy allergy.

This article has been reviewed and approved by SparkPeople healthy eating expert, Tanya Jolliffe.