Episode 138 – Meeting Calcium Requirements Without Dairy

Key Topics Covered

Non dairy sources of calcium.

Dairy has been considered the gold-standard calcium source for decades. This makes sense as it is a very calcium-rich food source that has a high bioavailability compared to most plant-based sources.

It is also already widely consumed in many countries in comparison to other non-dairy calcium-rich foods such as small fish with bones. 

But dairy isn’t for everyone nor is it necessary to get sufficient calcium in your diet. 

There are so many reasons why someone may want to cut dairy from their diet. These include dairy allergies, lactose intolerance, a general dislike of dairy products, or because they are converting to a plant-based or vegan diet. 

So today we will be discussing how to meet your calcium requirements without dairy products 

Calcium Importance & Requirements 

Healthy bone vs osteoporotic bone.

  • Adequate calcium intake is essential for the homeostasis of many bodily functions, including bone health.
  • The body stores all calcium reserves in the skeleton and the stability of this reserve is directly dependent on sufficient calcium intake and absorption to balance external losses.
  • When your calcium intake is low, your body will take some from its internal sources (your bones) to have sufficient amounts in the blood.
  • Your body considers the strength of your bones to be of less importance than calcium’s other vital roles in the body, including muscle and organ function.
  • Over time this can lead to the thinning of bones (osteopenia and osteoporosis)

Requirements

  • Adults: 1000mg/day
  • Post-menopausal women or men over 70 years old: 1300mg/day

Top Non-dairy Sources of Calcium 

Non diary calcium containing products.

  • Calcium-fortified products.
    • Plant milk: check the nutrition information panel to see if it has at least 120mg of calcium per 100mls.
    • Some vegan cheese: Made with plants (~300mg per 40g serve).
    • Other great products: Berri orange juice with calcium (200mg/200ml serve), Plant-based energy Milo (180mg/20g serve), Vitasoy soy yogurt (200mg/160g serve).
  • Fish with bones – eg. sardines or John West calcium enriched range.
  • Calcium set tofu – look for one that has calcium sulfate or (516) in the ingredients list. 
    • Evergreen hard tofu from Woolworths has 350mg/100g.

Bonus Non-dairy Calcium Sources

  • Many non-dairy and plant-based foods contain calcium, however, many have to be eaten in large quantities to get a significant amount of calcium. 

Dark Green Vegetables

green leafys high in caclium.

  • Dark green vegetables such as kale, bok choy, and broccoli are fairly calcium-rich vegetables. They contain anywhere between 50-150mg per cup.
    • Important to note that one cup of cooked kale is a lot of kale. 
    • To get an equivalent amount of calcium in a cup of dairy milk, you would be looking at 2-3 cups of cooked kale. 

Sesame Seeds

sesame seeds.
  • Sesame seeds contain ~150mg of calcium per tablespoon (20g).
    • That is not a significantly high amount of food volume. You could easily eat one tablespoon of sesame seeds sprinkled over your morning avo on toast. 
    • However, the calcium absorption from nuts and seeds isn’t very high so that is something to consider. 

Blackstrap Molasses

blackstrap molasses.

  • Blackstrap molasses is a good source of calcium with ~200 mg per tablespoon (15g).
    • But if you are not a daily consumer of blackstrap molasses or intend on being one, that likely doesn’t help too much. 

Lactose Intolerance 

Lacteeze pills.
  • If you suffer from lactose intolerance you may still choose to include low lactose or lactose-free dairy products in your diet. 
  • This can be a great way to meet calcium recommendations, particularly if plant-based milk, tofu, or fish isn’t your thing. 
  • Good options to include in your diet would be:
    • Lactose-free milk (eg. Zymil).
    • Lactose-free yogurt or yogurt with the lactase enzyme added.
    • Utilizing a lactase tablet alongside higher lactose foods.
    • Hard cheeses including Parmesan, Swiss and cheddar. Moderate portions of these cheeses can often be tolerated by people with lactose intolerance.

Calcium Supplements

  • If you are unable to consume enough calcium from your diet consistently you may need a supplement.
  • Whilst a food-first approach should usually be considered first, it would be best to supplement if you can’t get enough calcium through your diet.

Summary

There are so many other sources out there to help reach your calcium requirements and it’s important to be aware of what these are if you currently don’t consume dairy.

Relevant Blogs / Resources

Blog Posts