Non-dairy calcium options

non-dairy calcium optionsAre you a female?
Are you pregnant or a mom of littles?
Do you have bones?

I would guess you can say yes to at least one of those categories. As a Registered Dietitian I work primarily with women and most of them are pregnant or young moms. I’m either pregnant or getting un-pregnant & breastfeeding in this season of life with a 3 & 1 year old so naturally I attract that niche. Your bones continue to grow through your 30s and beyond that is maintenance but calcium is a misunderstood and often neglected nutrient. Let me explain.

D comes before C
You need calcium but in order to absorb it you need vitamin D. Some foods are fortified with it but the best source is from the sun. However, if you live in Michigan where winter is hangs around longer than it should then you need some additional vitamin D support. I highly recommend a quality vitamin D supplement if you are not outside in the sun for at least 20 minutes each day.

Skip the milk, you don’t need it
With that said, let’s move on to calcium. Contrary to popular belief and billboards I see on the highway, you don’t need to drink milk. It’s fine to have in small amounts (count it as a carb if you do, not a protein. You can learn why in my article on balanced eating basics) but you can get all the calcium you need from other non-dairy sources.

Non dairy options
Aside from milk, calcium is high in yogurt and cheeses. If you are avoiding dairy due to lactose intolerance, a milk allergy, or just because you don’t buy it often, here are a few  non-dairy options that are non-fortified (meaning naturally occurring in the food, not added in) and will give you plenty of calcium.

Broccoli, dark leafy greens (think kale, Swiss chard, turnip greens, bok choy… make some stir fry), canned salmon with bones (don’t worry; the bones are so soft you can make salmon burgers and won’t even notice), almonds, almond milk. Be sure to check your nutrition label with almond milk; one cup has about 50% of your daily needs! Check labels though; I just learned that the Kirkland brand from Costco only has 2% of your calcium needs.

If you aren’t sure how much calcium you are getting I highly recommend keeping a food log for a week. You can either enter it in something like MyFitness Pal to verify your intake or simply look up the calcium content of each food I mentioned above. You need more calcium when you are pregnant so be sure to accommodate the higher need. Lastly, calcium is best absorbed in smaller amounts so don’t eat all the calcium-rich foods in one meal and can it good; space it out throughout the day. For example- sauté some kale with your morning eggs. Grab a handful of almonds (fat) with your small piece of fruit (carbs) and a hard boiled egg (protein) for an afternoon snack. Stream broccoli to serve alongside dinner.

Take good care of your bones, mamas! You need them to carry around those wiggly, talking 10…20…40# dumbbells.

What are your favorite calcium-rich foods? Any clever ways you use kale?

What Supplements Should I Take?

This topic on supplements is from of a series of questions I received from speaking at a friend’s MOPS group. Be sure to check out my responses to the other nutrition topics:
Healthy Snacks for Kids
How to get kids to eat vegetables

This question was for the moms but it really applies to all of my readers as well:

What supplements should I take?

If you walk into a GNC store they might try to sell you 40 different supplements. I personally recommend 4 supplements for everyone. Since this is not a one-on-one consultation I won’t share how much to take because the need varies from person to person but I will share what I recommend taking and why.

Vitamin D
We need Vitamin D in order to absorb Calcium but if you don’t get 20 minutes of direct sunshine every day then you probably aren’t getting enough Vitamin D. Tanning beds don’t count! If you tend to experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) then Vitamin D can help with your mood. Learn why we need Vitamin D and start taking some sunshine. Natural Goodies Vitamin D drops is the brand my husband and I use as well as my kids.

Fish Oil
Inflammation, joint pain, brain health, mood stability… there are a lot of good reasons to take fish oil every day. Look for an EPA: DHA ratio of 600:400 mg and make sure it’s from wild caught sources.

Healing the gut can alleviate all sorts of problems. To clarify the difference between prebiotics and probiotics: PRObiotics contain live cultures of beneficial bacteria that help to recolonize the digestive tract with good bacteria. PREbiotics are components of food that feed the pre-existing beneficial bacteria in our gut. Taking probiotics on a daily basis helps to lay a good foundation of bacteria in your gut. You can find probiotics in foods like kefir, miso, kombucha, or sauerkraut but if you don’t eat these on a regular basis then I’d recommend a probiotic.

We don’t absorb vitamins and minerals as well from a pill as we do from food itself so take note that this is not a replacement for food nor is it an excuse to not eat your veggies. We do need to bridge the gap in our nutrition since no one eats exactly what we need every day but it’s important to pick a supplement with quality ingredients. Sadly, there are many supplements that  don’t even have what they say they have in them. For this reason I actually ditched my cheap multivitamin and probiotics and now use.

I’m a message away if you need recommendations on specific brands depending what kind of supplement you are looking to use.

What supplements do you take?

How to prepare kale

photo source: vivelevegan.comKale has been growing in popularity as well as other dark, leafy greens like spinach, swiss chard, collard greens, and mustard greens. The dark leaves are rich in nutrients like Vitamin A, C, K, folate, iron, and calcium. Since Vitamin A and K are absorbed through fat it helps to consume these leaves with a fat source like nuts, seeds, olive oil, coconut oil, or just good ol’ butter. Kale sometimes tastes a little bitter if you eat it uncooked like in a salad but it can offer a lot of flavor with a little preparation. If you want to get more dark greens in your diet, here are a few simple methods to try if you want to know how to prepare kale:

kale chipsKale Chips
You know I was skeptical if you read my experience with making kale chips. I’ll confess that while these are delicious, I was annoyed that it took me an hour to bake a full bunch of kale and only 5 minutes to scarf it all down (I obviously loved them). Since I don’t have a convection oven, I couldn’t stack two cookie sheets and therefore had to make 3 batches that took 18 minutes each to cook. If you have the time and you want something healthy to satisfy your crunch-craving, these are a great alternative to potato chips.

Kale smoothie
Just like any other leafy green, kale is disguised in smoothies since it will be masked by the sweetness of whatever fruit you add. Use milk or a milk alternative to boost the protein content and don’t overdo it on the fruit. Even though the sugar in fruit is naturally there, you don’t want to overload your body. I’d say to aim for about a cup total of fruit and add your leafy greens in with the mix.

Sauteed Kale
This is a really easy one and far less time consuming than baking kale into chips. Add a little coconut, olive oil, or butter and stir a big handful of kale (remove stems and break into pieces) into the pan on medium-high heat until the leaves are slightly wilted. I add a sprinkle of salt and pepper for a little more flavor and occasionally Parmesan cheese. If time allows, mince a clove of garlic and cook it in the oil for adding the kale. You can enjoy this as a side to accompany a meal or make it part of the main course. For example, saute some cubed sweet potatoes, mushrooms, and kale to top over quinoa for a healthy vegetarian dish. You can also add the cooked leaves to your eggs in the morning since breakfast is the meal that usually contains the least servings of veggies.

Soup, soup, and soup
Kale can fit into just about any soup you want to make. I’ve added kale to my mushroom and barley soup and it blended right in. Kale can add a burst of nutrition to a vegetable soup, white bean soup, chili, lentil soup, and any type of stew.

What are your favorite methods to prepare kale?

How much calcium should I have?

Calcium is a mineral needed to build and maintain strong bones. If you’re wondering “how much calcium should I have?” There are many dairy and non-dairy options if you want more than milk and other dairy products. If you are between 19 to 50 years old, your daily need of calcium is 1,000 milligrams. Women over 50 require 1,200 milligrams daily and men’s calcium requirements increase to 1,200 milligrams after age 70. One of the easiest ways to get an adequate amount of calcium is by consuming dairy products. It can be as simple as drinking low-fat or skim milk with your breakfast, a yogurt as part of your mid-morning snack, and cheese on your sandwich or salad at lunch. Add a second glass of milk at dinner and you’re covered for the day.

Here are few dairy products and their calcium content:

Food Serving Size Calcium Content
Plain yogurt (2% milk)

1 cup

415 mg

Nonfat dry milk

1 cup

377 mg

Skim milk

1 cup

302 mg


1 cup

285 mg

Mozzarella cheese, part skim

1 ounce

207 mg

Ricotta cheese

¼ cup

168 mg

Cottage cheese (2% milk)

1 cup

155 mg

But what if I don’t like milk or am lactose intolerant?
There are many non-dairy options that can provide a significant amount of calcium:


Serving Size

Calcium Content

Fortified juice and rice/soy/almond beverages

1 cup

300 mg

Sardines (with bones)

3 ounces

325 mg

Canned salmon (with bones)

3 ounces.

188 mg


1 cup

179 mg

White beans

1 cup

170 mg


3 ounces

150 mg

Swiss chard (cooked)

1 cup

102 mg

Soybeans (cooked)

½ cup

88 mg

Parmesan cheese

1 Tbsp

69 mg

Broccoli (cooked)

1 cup

62 mg


¼ cup

92 mg


Medium orange

52 mg

Brown rice (cooked)

1 cup

33 mg

It is possible to consume enough non-dairy products to meet your daily calcium needs. However, unless you’re intentional to do plan out your calcium intake from dairy or non-dairy products, it’s unlikely that you will eat enough every day to meet your needs. In this case, a supplement is advised. There are two types of calcium supplements: Calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Calcium carbonate pills usually offer ~500 mg of calcium per tablet and are best absorbed when taken with or immediately after a meal. Calcium citrate supplements offer 250-350 mg of calcium per tablet and can be consumed at any time. Calcium carbonate is usually cheaper than and just as effective as calcium citrate. Research shows that calcium supplements are best absorbed when taken in amounts of 500 mg or less. Therefore, if you take more than 500 mg of supplements, divide the tablets up throughout your day. There are also chewable tablets which some evidence shows are better absorbed than swallowing whole pills.

Bone health is a 3-part triad
Consuming your daily calcium needs is only part one of three for bone health. Vitamin D helps our bodies absorb calcium so it’s important to get enough of both. Vitamin D can be found in milk, eggs, organ meats, and fish like salmon and sardines. Our body even converts sunlight into Vitamin D! Foods that can further inhibit absorption of calcium include caffeine, alcohol, and sodium. The third part of bone health involves weight-bearing exercise. Strength training exercises like lifting weights, brisk walking, running, and stair climbing can help maintain strong bones and help prevent osteoporosis.

What’s your method to ensure you consume enough calcium?

Is coffee good for you?

Wake up and smell the…health benefits of coffee? Like many other foods, coffee has gained a poor reputation. It seems the public has been torn in both directions- is coffee good for you or not? The answer: Yes! BUT- before you run off to pick up a double shot frappe mocha java cappuccino with whipped cream and caramel syrup, read on so you understand why it’s good and what can make coffee not-so-good for you.

Why is coffee good for you?
– It’s a great vehicle for fat-free milk. Milk contains Calcium and Vitamin D, two minerals Americans are falling short on. While adding a few teaspoons to your coffee won’t do much, a latte can provide as much as a cup of milk.

– Coffee provides one of the greatest sources of antioxidants in the American diet since we consume coffee on a daily basis more than any other foods containing them. For a unique flavor and additional antioxidants, add some cinnamon to your Joe.

– Research is showing coffee may reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and even some cancers. This may be due to the nutrients found in coffee- potassium, niacin, vitamin E and magnesium.

Why coffee can be not-so-good for you
– Most coffee shops tip the scales at more than 400 calories for some beverages. They likely use whole milk, a whopping 8 grams of fat and 150 calories per cup compared to fat free milk with 80 calories per cup and pour in sugar-laden syrups.

– Coffee can disrupt sleep patterns and lead to fatigue. It takes about 6-8 hours for the effects of caffeine to wear off, so if you grab a cup any later than 8 hours before bed, it could have negative affects on your shut-eye.

How much is too much?
Two to three 8-ounce cups of coffee per day considered moderate consumption. It’s recommended to stay under 300 mg of caffeine per day and each cup of regular coffee contains about 130 mg. If you drink more than 3 cups a day, consider making decaf for any additional cups (only 4 mg per cup).

Try this
I found this great tip for making iced coffee that you should try out. It’s great way to reap the benefits of coffee without the added sugar and fat. Brew your coffee, freeze it into ice cube trays, and add it to a glass of milk so when the ice melts you won’t have watered down iced coffee. If you want it sweeter, add a little Stevia or natural zero-calorie sweetener. You can use trial and error to figure out how strong to make your coffee and what coffee cubes-to-milk ratio works for you.

How do you make your coffee a healthy addition to your day?