Q: I’d like to get all the calcium I need from my diet, not supplements. What are the best foods – besides milk – to do this?
A: Let’s first start by discussing your daily calcium requirement, which depends on your age and gender.
Women, ages 19-50, need 1,000 milligrams of calcium each day while older women require 1,200 milligrams. The daily calcium requirement for men is 1,000 milligrams until age 70 and 1,200 milligrams after 70. Boys and girls, ages 9-18, need even more calcium – 1,300 milligrams daily – to build strong bones.
As you already know, milk and other dairy products are a good source of calcium. One serving (e.g. 1 cup milk, ¾ cup plain yogurt, 1.5 ounces hard cheese) supplies roughly 300 milligrams of calcium. In food terms, that means consuming three servings of dairy each day would add 900 milligrams of calcium to your diet. (Cottage cheese provides less calcium; 1 cup has 138 milligrams of the mineral.)
If you eat few or no dairy products, there are other foods that can help you meet your daily calcium requirements. Fortified non-dairy beverages like soy, rice and almond milks contain 300 to 330 milligrams of calcium per one cup. So do calcium-fortified juices. If you like canned salmon, it’s a good source of calcium, too — providing you eat the bones (three ounces has 212 milligrams of calcium).
Another food that adds a fair amount of calcium to your diet – along with plenty of nutrients and disease-fighting phytochemicals – are leafy green vegetables such as spinach, collard greens, and bok choy. To get the most calcium from vegetables, eat them cooked rather than raw.
That’s because many plant foods contain oxalates, natural compounds that bind to calcium causing it to be poorly absorbed. In order for foods to be good sources of calcium, the mineral needs to be in a form that your body can absorb. This is called bioavailable calcium and it’s the calcium your body can use. Cooking increases the bioavailable calcium by releasing what’s bound to oxalates.
Other good sources of calcium include almonds and almond butter, tahini (sesame paste), baked beans, black beans, kidney beans, navy beans, pinto beans, soybeans, firm tofu and blackstrap molasses.
April Graff, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian at both Mankato Hy-Vee stores and can be reached at AGraff@hy-vee.com or call 625-1107 or 625-9070. Send her questions about food and nutrition, recipes, meal planning and healthy shopping.