Skip to main content

If you substitute cow’s milk with a fortified non-dairy beverage (e.g. soy, almond, rice, coconut) in smoothies and on breakfast cereal, you’ll get just as much calcium as you would if you used milk.

Getty Images

The question

I am considering giving up dairy but I'm concerned about calcium. Is it possible to get enough calcium without eating milk, yogurt and cheese?

The answer

Story continues below advertisement

Calcium, the most abundant mineral in the body, is vital for building strong bones and teeth, but it's also needed for muscle contraction, nerve function and the release of hormones and enzymes that affect several body processes. Research suggests that getting enough calcium may guard against premenstrual syndrome, high blood pressure, colorectal cancer and calcium oxalate kidney stones.

It's true that dairy is an exceptional source of calcium. But it's not the only source. Far from it. Other excellent sources of calcium make it entirely possible to meet daily calcium needs from a dairy-free diet. And many of these foods are also brimming with other beneficial nutrients and phytochemicals.

Adults, aged 19 to 50, need 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day. After age 50, calcium requirements increase to 1,200 mg a day for women. For men, daily calcium needs increase to 1,200 mg after the age of 70. Children and teenagers, 9 to 18, require 1,300 mg of the nutrient each day. Younger children (4 to 8 years) need 1,000 mg and one- to three-year-olds need 700 mg daily.

If you substitute cow's milk with a fortified non-dairy beverage (e.g. soy, almond, rice, coconut) in smoothies and on breakfast cereal, you'll get just as much calcium as you would if you used milk.

As with milk, they also provide 100 IU of vitamin D per one cup. (Check the nutrition label: fortified plant beverages provide 25 to 30 per cent of the daily value (DV) for calcium and 25 to 45 per cent of the DV for vitamin D.)

Cultured coconut milk, a dairy-free alternative to yogurt, is also fortified with calcium.

Canned salmon (with bones) and sardines are also calcium-rich foods. Here's a bonus: salmon is among the very few foods that contain vitamin D, a nutrient that works with calcium to boost bone health. Add one-half of a tin of salmon to your green salad and you'll get as much as 880 IU of vitamin D, the amount found in nearly nine cups of milk.

Story continues below advertisement

Including green vegetables, such as kale, bok choy, spinach, broccoli and rapini, in your daily diet will also help increase your calcium intake. You'll get more calcium if you eat your vegetables cooked rather than raw. That's because some plant foods contain oxalates, natural compounds that bind to calcium causing it to be poorly absorbed. Cooking vegetables increases the amount of calcium that's available for absorption by releasing what's bound to oxalates.

Leafy green vegetables are also high in vitamin K, a nutrient that large studies have linked to better bone health.

Beans, nuts and seeds can supply considerable calcium to your diet, too. So does firm tofu that's been processed with calcium (look for calcium sulfate on the ingredients list).

While I advise meeting calcium requirements from foods first, some people with higher calcium requirements, such as adolescents and older adults, may need to take a calcium supplement to bridge the gap in their diet. As always, speak to your health-care provider about the supplementing safely.

For many people, getting a day's worth of calcium from a dairy-free diet means eating more plant-foods, foods that provide calcium as well as plenty of fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals. That's hardly a tradeoff.

Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto. She is a regular contributor to CTV News Channel.

Story continues below advertisement

Send dietitian Leslie Beck your questions at dietitian@globeandmail.com. She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail website. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Looking for calcium beyond the dairy case

Use the following chart to help you add calcium-rich foods to a dairy-free diet.

Food Calcium (milligrams)

Calcium fortified plant & fruit beverages

Almond milk, 1 cup 300 to 330

Story continues below advertisement

Coconut milk, 1 cup 300 to 330

Cultured coconut milk, 3/4 cup 165 to 385

Hemp milk, 1 cup 300 to 330

Oat milk, 1 cup 300 to 350

Rice milk, 1 cup 300 to 330

Soy milk, 1 cup 300 to 330

Story continues below advertisement

Orange juice, 1 cup 300 to 360

Fish

Salmon, canned, with bones, 1/2 can (106 g) 220

Sardines, 1 can (80 g) 275

Beans & Soy

Baked beans, 1 cup 154

Story continues below advertisement

Black beans, 1 cup 84

Garbanzo beans (chickpeas), 1 cup 65

Kidney beans, 1 cup, cooked 92

Navy beans, cooked, 1 cup 123

Pinto beans, cooked, 1 cup 175

Soybeans, cooked, 1 cup 261

Soy nuts, roasted,  1/4 cup 60

Tofu, raw, firm, with calcium sulfate, 1/2 cup 253

Nuts, Seeds & Nut butters

Almonds, whole, 1/4 cup 94

Almond butter, 2 tbsp. 112

Brazil nuts, 1/4 cup 53

Tahini, 2 tbsp. 128

Vegetables

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

Swiss chard, cooked, 1 cup 102

Turnip greens, cooked, 1 cup 197

Other foods

Figs, dried, 5 68

Orange, 1 medium 52

Blackstrap molasses, 1 tbsp. (15 ml) 180

Source: Leslie Beck, RD

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter