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?