Written by Felicity Downes-Casipit (Naturopath, B.Nat)
Calcium is an essential mineral for all living beings. Not only do we need calcium for healthy bones and teeth, but it’s also important in many other areas such as nerve transmission, muscle contraction, clotting blood and cardiovascular health.
Calcium is the most abundant mineral found in the body with about 99% of it stored in bones and teeth, the remainder can be found in blood and tissues. The bones act like a reserve of calcium, when we don’t get enough calcium from our diet, the body will start to draw upon the calcium stored within the bones, impacting bone health as we age.
Our bones undergo continuous remodelling during our lifetime. Our skeleton is constantly being broken down and replaced with new bone tissue. As we age, the process of bone breakdown can begin to overtake the bone renewal process, which is why it is important to ensure that our calcium intake is adequate.
Research conducted by CSIRO and the University of Adelaide found that one in six Australian adults avoid milk and dairy foods. The vast majority of participants reported their reason for avoiding dairy was to avoid the gastrointestinal symptoms they associated with dairy foods1.
When we think of how to get more calcium in our diet, we often think of dairy products such as milk, cheese or yoghurt. Calcium is more concentrated in dairy foods than any other food groups, however calcium also occurs naturally in a wide variety of delicious foods that aren’t dairy. The recommend dietary intake (RDI) of calcium for Australian adults is 1000mg, which is generally achievable with a daily serving of yoghurt, a glass of milk and a serving or two of good cheese.
But what about those people who can’t tolerate dairy, or those who avoid dairy products for ethical reasons? Are they still able to keep up their calcium intake through food? Well the answer is ‘yes’. There are plenty of delicious foods that can help to keep our calcium levels up and they’re dairy free!
There are a variety of vegetables which are a great source of calcium, however, they can be high in oxalates which may inhibit calcium absorption, so try to get your calcium from a variety of sources, not just vegetables. Great vegetable sources of calcium are:
– Bok choy
Nuts and Seeds
Many nuts and seeds are naturally high in calcium and make a great snack or addition to salads or muesli. Those especially high in calcium are:
– Chia seeds
– Sesame seeds
Fish with edible bones are a healthy source of calcium. The canned variety are super convenient and are a tasty addition to green leafy salads or simply atop your favourite cracker.
Beans and Lentils
There are many varieties of beans and lentils which are not only extremely versatile, but great sources of dairy free calcium. Try a spicy chickpea curry or a lentil burger with homemade hummus.
– Red Beans
– White beans
So, if dairy isn’t part of your diet, don’t panic, you’re not destined to a life of brittle bones. There are many healthy choices available when it comes to non-dairy sources of calcium, try a few of the suggestions above and eat your way to healthy, strong bones!
- Yantcheva B, et al. (2015). Food avoidance in an Australian adult population sample: the case of dairy products. Public Health Nutrition (19)9, 1616-1623. doi.org//10.1017/S1368980015003250
- Nutrient Reference Values – National Health and Medical Research Council