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Can I get enough calcium each day without supplements? Add to ...

The question: 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?

The answer: Let’s first start by discussing your daily calcium requirement, which depends on your age and gender. Women, aged 19 to 50, need 1,000 milligrams of calcium each day and 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, aged nine to 18, need even more calcium – 1,300 milligrams daily – to build strong bones.

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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, rapini 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, baked beans, black beans, kidney beans, navy beans, pinto beans, soybeans, firm tofu and blackstrap molasses. Use my chart below to help you meet your daily calcium needs.

Calcium in foods (milligrams)

Dairy Products

Milk, 1 cup 305

Yogurt, low fat, plain, ¾ cup 336

Yogurt, low fat, fruit flavoured, ¾ cup 254

Cheddar cheese, 1.5 ounces 307

Cottage cheese, 1% MF, 1 cup 212

Non Dairy Foods

Non dairy milks, fortified 300 to 330

Baked beans, 1 cup 154

Black beans, 1 cup 84

Kidney beans, 1 cup 92

Navy beans, cooked, 1 cup 123

Pinto beans, cooked, 1 cup 175

Soybeans, cooked, 1 cup 261

Tofu, raw, firm, with calcium sulfate, ½ cup 253

Almonds, whole, 1/4 cup 94

Almond butter, 2 tbsp. 112

Cabbage, cooked, 1 cup 72

Beet greens, cooked 1 cup 164

Bok choy, cooked, 1 cup 158

Broccoli, cooked, 1 cup 62

Collard greens, cooked, 1 cup 266

Kale, cooked, 1 cup 94

Okra, cooked, 1 cup 124

Rapini (Broccoli raab), cooked, 1 cup 200

Spinach, cooked, 1 cup 245

Blackstrap molasses, 1 tbsp. 180

Source: USDA Agricultural Research Service. National Agricultural Library. National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 24.

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