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.
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)
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.