Written by FH Contributor, Claudia Carillo

Hey ladies, have you heard the saying, “drink milk to make your bones stronger?” At some point in your life, someone has probably told you that one cup of milk a day will help you avoid bone problems in the long run. Well, there are some facts backing up that saying. Dairy products, including milk and dairy products like ice cream and butter, are naturally high in calcium needed to build strong bones. Calcium is an essential mineral not only needed for bone and teeth health but also for blood clotting, muscle contractions, and nerve functions among other crucial functions in our body.  It is especially important for women as they are more likely to develop osteoporosis (porous and brittle bones). 

Many people cut dairy out of their diet for various reasons. For example, milk allergy is one of the most common allergens in children carried into adulthood. It is an abnormal immune response by the body caused by the proteins found in milk (cow, goat, and even soy) that is characterized by digestive issues and even hives, depending on the severity of the allergic reaction. While milk allergy is an immune response, lactose intolerance on the other hand is when your gut does not have enough of the lactase enzyme, which helps break lactose in milk for digestion. This can also cause digestive issues like bloating and gas. On the other hand, veganism is a lifestyle in which people follow a plant-based diet that avoids all foods from animal sources such as dairy, eggs, and honey.

You may be asking yourself, what about people that can’t consume dairy or simply follow a lifestyle that does not include dairy products? These individuals can become calcium deficient, which can cause many repercussions to their health. However, not all is lost! There are PLENTY of non-dairy, calcium-rich foods that can be incorporated into your diet to ensure you do not become calcium deficient. If you’re looking to cut down on your dairy or simply want to try some non-dairy options, here are some non-dairy foods that are high in calcium that you can try! For comparison, 1 cup of cow milk has 305 mg of calcium. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for calcium is 1,000 mg for women ages 18 to 50.

Soy products: Plant-based source of protein originating from soybeans. Soy milk has 61 mg of calcium in one serving, while tofu has 434 mg of calcium. Soy is high in many nutrients, antioxidants, unsaturated fats (aka the good fats), and fiber, among many other vitamins and minerals. 

Fruits: Dried figs contain 162 mg of calcium in one serving, and orange contains 38 mg. The good news is that orange juice also has about 9 mg of calcium per serving! These may not sound like they have a lot of calcium, but when you combine different fruits and other sources of calcium, it is very much possible and realistic to meet the daily recommended amount.

Legumes (Beans, Lentils, Chickpeas): A great plant-based calcium source that is also high in fiber and “good” fats. Cannelli beans contain 62 mg of calcium in a serving, while lentils (all colors included) contain 67 mg of calcium per serving. Legumes can be eaten in soups, salads, and even a plant-based loaf (like meatloaf), so these are good options to explore in your kitchen and try new recipes to broaden your palate.

Nuts: Another great source of good fats, fiber, vitamins, and calcium! One cup of mixed nuts has 157 mg of calcium, almonds alone have 247 mg of calcium per cup, and chia seeds contain 179 mg in only one ounce. Nuts are such a good and filling snack, and they also make a great topping for oatmeals and salads!

Dark, leafy greens: This family of foods contains a variety of vitamins, antioxidants, fiber, and important minerals like calcium and iron. 1 cup of chopped kale contains 101 mg of calcium, 1 cup of arugula has 125 mg, and a cup of cooked spinach has 240 mg.

It is important to eat calcium-rich foods and be aware that there are some medical drugs and components of other foods that can decrease the bioavailability of calcium absorption. Hence, the amount of calcium is not the only important thing, but what you eat it with. For example, oxalates are a plant compound present in spinach, rhubarb, beets, and some beans. Oxalates interact with calcium absorption, so your body absorbs less than half of the calcium, and other minerals like iron, that you consume in your diet. Evidence shows that increased oxalate intake is possibly linked with increased oxalate concentrations in urine, contributing to kidney stone development. A good rule of thumb is to combine those dark, leafy greens with another food source that is high in calcium, like legumes or fruits. Some medical drugs, like anticoagulants, also reduce calcium absorption from the diet. If you need more information, don’t hesitate to contact your primary care provider or registered dietitian for personalized advice. 

Now imagine this: it is a warm, summer afternoon. You are sitting on a patio chair with a nice breeze and shade, sipping on some OJ while eating a refreshing salad with a variety of dark, leafy greens topped with fruits and nuts. Doesn’t that sound delish?