Calcium is an essential part of a healthy diet. An adults needs at least 1,000 mg of calcium per day, and can need more depending on age and medical concerns.
It may seem difficult to eat enough calcium, especially for people who eat little or no dairy. However, dairy is not the only source of calcium, and is not necessarily the best source of it either. There are many different good sources of calcium from a variety of different food types.
Fruits and vegetables are a surprisingly good source of calcium. Almost all leafy green vegetables are high in calcium. Cabbage and bok choy contain 190 mg of calcium per cup, and the body absorbs it more readily than dairy sources. Rhubarb is also particularly high in calcium, as are figs. So in order to eat enough calcium, make sure to eat your five recommended portions of fruit and vegetables per day. Look at which fruits and vegetables are high in calcium, and then include them in your diet. For example, a rhubarb crumble made with stewed rhubarb (you can mix with currants or other calcium rich fruit) and topped with a mixture of butter, oats (very high in calcium), and whole-meal flour (also a moderate calcium source) makes not only a delicious dessert, but a great source of calcium.
Many protein sources are also surprisingly good sources of calcium. White beans contain 160mg of calcium per cup, roasted almonds have nearly 400mg per cup, and tofu has an impressive 350 mg per 150g serving. Other protein sources that are also high in calcium include soy beans and canned fish. Not only are you gaining calcium through your protein sources, it is easy to include more of these foods in your diet to boost your calcium intake. For example, toss soy beans in with a stir fry, or puree a few in with a pasta sauce. Silky style tofu can be blitzed up with fruit and/or yogurt and/or ice and juice to make either a great breakfast or anytime treat.
There are other, less obvious, sources of calcium that should not be overlooked. Many foods are fortified, and are actually a good source of readily absorbable calcium Calcium enriched orange juice (Tropicana makes one) is high in calcium, but tastes the same as normal orange juice. Many breakfast cereals are fortified, as are drinks such as Ovaltine and many chocolate milk powders. Many condiments, such as black molasses and tahini, are also high in calcium. Although you won’t eat huge amounts of these foods, including small amounts of them helps to boost your calcium levels. Start looking at the nutrition information labels on food, and pay attention to the calcium levels. You may be surprised what foods are providing you with calcium.
Calcium absorption is aided by Vitamin D and so it is important to ensure that your vitamin D intake is also adequate. You can take vitamin D supplements, eat vitamin D rich food, or simply stand in the sun for a few minutes. Also, salt inhibits calcium absorption, so lowering your salt intake (especially in calcium rich meals) can help to raise the amount of calcium your body can use.
Although dairy products can be a good source of calcium, they are not the only foods that provide calcium. By including enough fruits and vegetables in your diet, eating a variety of proteins, eating fortified foods, and using the right condiments, you can make sure that you eat enough calcium.