Have you eaten your 1.75 pounds of dairy products today? If you’re like most Americans, that’s your share. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Americans consume 630 pounds of milk, yogurt, cheese and ice cream every year, a number that could increase when the agency updates its report in July.
Dairy products, particularly low-fat varieties, can be excellent sources of protein, calcium, and vitamin D. But there are other choices for people who don’t like dairy, follow a vegan diet, or are among the 60 percent of adults worldwide who can’t digest milk products. Plenty of nondairy food sources deliver the calcium you need to help keep your bones strong.
How much calcium is enough? If you’re older than 50, you need 1,200 mg of calcium daily. Before age 50, the recommended daily amount is 1,000 mg. Try these nondairy breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner possibilities for calcium-rich meals.
In the morning, pour almond milk or soy milk on whole-grain cereal, and sprinkle on sesame seeds or chopped almonds for calcium and crunch. Calcium-fortified soy milk packs about 300 mg of calcium in a cup, and fortified almond milk has about 450 mg per cup. The nondairy milks are not naturally high in calcium, so it’s important to check labels and choose fortified brands, notes Gloria Tsang, registered dietitian and author of Go UnDiet: 50 Small Actions for Lasting Weight Loss (2011, HealthCastle Media). Tsang also founded HealthCastle.com, a nutrition website featuring advice from registered dietitians.
Swap out the usual lunch sandwich for a salad made with arugula or spinach, both of which are high in calcium. Or spin juice, fresh fruit, ice, and tofu with calcium sulfate in a blender for a smoothie lunch. It’s refreshing on a hot day and a half-cup of the tofu gives you 250 mg of calcium.
Stir-fry your dinner with plenty of broccoli to add calcium, or try salmon patties made with canned salmon that contains bones. A 3.5-ounce serving of canned salmon has 240 mg of calcium. Chili and soup made with hearty lentils or beans is another healthy way to add calcium to your diet—anywhere from 79 to 129 mg of calcium per cup, depending on the type of bean you choose.
Calcium in foods that contain oxalic acid, like spinach, or phytic acid, like beans and nuts, is not as easily absorbed as the calcium in dairy products, so you can’t expect to get the full amount of this nutrient from any single food group.
“The right combination of foods is very important,” says Tsang. “Look for a variety of foods that are high in calcium, and iron, too.”
Make your dessert with figs, red or pink grapefruit, kiwi, or oranges to top off your meal with some more calcium, as well as healthy fiber. If you enjoy the seasonal treat of strawberry rhubarb pie, go ahead and feel virtuous in eating a slice, because a cup of cooked rhubarb has 348 mg of calcium.