You’ve got to hand it to the dairy industry. It has succeeded in making milk synonymous with strong bones, but you can get plenty of calcium without dairy. That’s right. Contrary to conventional wisdom, there are quite a few superior plant sources of this mineral. If you choose to forego cheese, yoghurt and cows’ milk, you, you needn’t worry about missing out. In this article, we’ll introduce you to the vast array of non-dairy foods that are packed with calcium.
Calcium for everyone
When you think of calcium, what’s your first association? If you’re not vegan, you’ll probably imagine a hulking wedge of cheese or a frosty pint of dairy milk. This is more to do with relentless advertising than it is to do with the facts. If you have trouble digesting milk products, you’ll be overjoyed to learn that it’s easy to get calcium without dairy – and your bones won’t suffer a bit.
Have a look at the list of food categories containing ample amounts of this vital mineral:
- vegetable smoothies and juices
- leafy green vegetables
- mineral water
Don’t eat dairy? Get your calcium here
- Green and leafy vegetables are a tasty choice if you want to increase your consumption of calcium. They’ve much higher levels than dairy sources – particularly kale, which provides 135 mg of calcium with each 100 gram portion (uncooked). In addition to all that bone-building goodness, you’ll be getting provitamin A, vitamin K and C. Kale’s known as a superfood. It’s a reputation that’s entirely merited. Mix it up a bit and try its close cousins, chard and spinach. You can incorporate it into your diet in numerous ways. Eat it with complementary vegetables or sprinkle it on pizzas. You can add it to savoury pies or make it the star of your next salad.
- Nuts are anything but. For instance, almonds are exploding with calcium. For each 100 gram serving, you’ll take in a whopping 264 mg of calcium. Their dazzling nutritional profile includes some stellar residents: magnesium, manganese and vitamins E and B2, for a start. Almonds can help lower your cholesterol levels, as well. Along with almonds, try Brazil nuts (160 mg of calcium per 100 grams) and hazelnuts. You can eat them on the go or let your culinary creativity soar and include them in all kinds of recipes – from desserts to main meals. If you really want to push the boat out, use nuts to make plant milks at home. Your bank balance will get healthier along with you.
- Dried aromatic herbs are indispensable. We may not eat them by the truckload, but it’s a case of ‘every little helps’. Add them – liberally and often – to your cooking , and you’ll soon benefit from their calcium content. They’re versatile, too. You can drink some of them (think mint and sage, for example) as tea. The best choices boosting your calcium intake are thyme, dill, marjoram, sage, oregano, mint and basil.
- Sesame seeds, when toasted, see their calcium levels increase. You don’t have to eat them like this all day, every day. Treat yourself to a lovely tahini dressing with your next plate of falafels. Sesame seeds are tahini’s main component. When you open your mouth to sesame, you’re also giving your body a good dose of vitamins B1 and B6, manganese, magnesium and copper. Add the toasted seeds to salads, cakes, breads and smoothies.
- Flaxseeds, like sesame seeds, are packed with calcium. Their oil is anti-inflammatory and can prevent atherosclerosis. Use ground flaxseed in baking as an egg substitute. You can also add it to homemade bread or blend it into juices and smoothies. It’s an excellent ingredient in dressings, sauces and creams.
- Legumes come in a rainbow of colours and flavours – which is great if you’re searching for calcium. 13% of any legume is, in fact, calcium. White beans and black beans are particularly blessed. Another excuse for including them in your daily diet is their ability to regulate blood sugar and blood pressure. One word of caution holds true: they can cause flatulence if eaten in excess, so don’t rely on them solely. Pair them up with vegetables for satisfying stews and comforting casseroles.
- Dandelion is a cleansing plant. It’s a diuretic that is beneficial for the liver and it’s also a splendid antioxidant. Boil the young leaves for salads, exactly as you’d do with spinach. Who needs cows’ milk when you can get 187 mg of calcium in every 100 gram serving of dandelion?
- Orange is an unassuming superhero when it comes to calcium. This juicy fruit offers 65 mg in each modest serving of one medium piece. Along with it, you’ll get oodles of vitamin C – and there’s no end to its uses. Get your orange on in smoothies, baked goods, salads and dressings.
- Quinoa and amaranth don’t deserve the disparaging-sounding moniker, ‘pseudocereals’, but that’s what they’re called. They’re both powerhouses of calcium and are a boon to plant-based diets. Take amaranth, for instance. It’s 18% calcium! You can blend it with rice or add it to soups, stews and pies. It Sautée it with vegetables in a stirfry, if you fancy. Quinoa has its own enviable properties and can be used in much the same way as amaranth. Why not replace your boring, morning porridge with a lovely helping of quinoa with rice milk. Add a pinch of cinnamon and a drizzle of agave and you’ve got heaven in a bowl, my friend.
- Blackstrap molasses: discover it for its unique taste, but stay for its abundance of minerals. A measly two tablespoons of blackstrap molasses boasts 400 mg of calcium! Opt for an organic variety if you can. Then, spread it liberally on toast or swirl it in your porridge. You can add it to cooking and baking, too. It lends a deeper dimension to all sorts of dishes.
Smashing calcium myths
Getting back to dairy’s undeserved reputation as the champion of the calcium world…there’s a real problem with this assertion. Even though dairy foods contain a heap of calcium, it’s not the best source. The body doesn’t absorb cows’ milk in a way that can be best utilised to prevent osteoporosis.
The truth is that poppy seeds are full of calcium at 1448 mg per 100 grams. Hot on its heels is awake algae at 1380 per 100 grams. Cows’ milk has only 120 mg per 100 gram serving – as does yogurt. Not so great, eh? Even kombu seaweed, sesame, soya, almonds and kale beat dairy at 150 mg per 100 grams.
There’s mounting evidence that dairy consumption actually impedes the absorption of calcium. You’re much better off getting rid of it and eating your leafy greens, algae, nuts, seeds, grains and legumes.
Recent research illustrates that animal milk can cause osteoporosis if consumed regularly over a long period of time. In countries where dairy is consumed in the highest quantities – places such as Switzerland, Finland, Sweden and the Netherlands – there are more diagnoses of this bone disease. In countries where dairy is a rarity (Liberia, Cambodia, Ghana, Congo), osteoporosis is almost never seen.
Now, you know! Calcium doesn’t have to be from a cow. There are many, many delicious alternatives!
Images courtesy of Daniella Segura, Thoranin Tiriwit, Rune T, Jennifer, Jeanette Svensson, Judi, Mario Lopez Egusquiza.