Although calcium intake is important throughout 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.
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.
Here’s how much calcium you’ll find in a single serving of each of the foods above.
|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|
Here are some tips on how to incorporate many of these foods into your diet to increase your calcium intake:
- Cook a vegetable stir-fry and toss in diced tofu made with calcium sulfate.
- Add steamed and minced greens like collards and kale to casseroles, soups and stews.
- Use calcium-fortified non-dairy milk (like soy or rice milk) instead of water in recipes such as pancakes, mashed potatoes, pudding and oatmeal.
- Stir a drizzle of blackstrap molasses into your oatmeal.
- Use almond butter instead of peanut butter.
- Add calcium-rich beans like black-eyed peas to soups, pasta sauces, salads and burritos.
- Enjoy canned baked beans as a side dish, or mix them into your favorite recipes.
- Choose a brand you trust. Generic supplements might be lower quality and might not be absorbed as well.
- When comparing the potency of two different types, compare them by the amount of elemental calcium they contain, which should be listed on the label.
- Choose one with the abbreviation "USP", which means that the supplement has met the standards of the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) for quality, purity and tablet disintegration or dissolution.
- Do not use calcium supplements made with unrefined oyster shell, bone meal or dolomite as they may also contain toxic substances like lead, mercury and arsenic.
- Reduce your sodium intake. Increased sodium in the blood can cause your body to compensate by pulling more calcium from your bones to maintain balance. Cut back on your salt intake and your bones will stay strong.
- Eat your veggies. In addition to their calcium content, many vegetables and fruits are good sources of potassium. According to the NIH, this mineral may help decrease calcium excretion in people who eat high sodium diets— particularly in postmenopausal women.
- Don’t overdo the protein. As with sodium, the body’s reaction to excess protein can weaken bones. If you’re on a high-protein diet, be doubly sure you’re getting the recommended amount of calcium daily—at least 1,000 mg.
- Exercise. Weight-bearing exercise, like walking, step-aerobics, running and hiking, put stress on your bones, causing your body to respond by making them stronger.
- Get ample amounts of Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps improve calcium absorption. Food and sunlight are your two sources for vitamin D. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, "for bone health, an adequate intake of vitamin D is no less important than calcium." Food sources of vitamin D include cod liver oil, salmon, mackerel, tuna, and fortified breakfast cereals. According to the NIH, ten to fifteen minutes of sun exposure at least two times per week to the face, arms, hands, or back (without sunscreen) is usually sufficient to provide adequate vitamin D.