By GMB Nutritionist Melissa Fine
When we think of foods that contain calcium, cow’s milk is typically the first that comes to mind…but what if you can’t drink it?
Cow’s milk is a no-go if you’re vegan, on a dairy free diet, or are lactose intolerant - although lactose intolerants can enjoy lactose free milk (readily available from all supermarkets) without getting a stomach upset.
Why We Need Calcium
Of all the minerals in the body, calcium is the most abundant, with approximately 99% of it residing in our bones and teeth. Calcium is particularly important in the prevent of osteoporosis or ‘brittle bone disease’ that males and females are at greater risk of from age 50, with increased fracture risk being a complication. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, approximately 72,000 or 10 per cent of Australians aged 50+ have osteoporosis.1
Apart from being a vital structural component of our bones and teeth, calcium plays a role in a number of cell signalling processes in the body, including those required for:
- Muscle contraction,
- Nerve impulse transmission, and
- Vasoconstriction (contraction) and vasodilation (relaxation) of the blood vessels.
How much calcium do we need a day?
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends that females aged 19-50 and males 19-70 have a calcium intake of 1,000 mg/day. From age 51, women should increase their calcium intake to 1,300 mg/day, and men should do the same from age 70. More on this here.2
So which foods can you get calcium from if you don’t do dairy?
Naturally fortified plant-based ‘milks’ are a good place to start, especially because you can have a substantial half-to-one-cup serving of it in your smoothie, cereal or porridge…or turmeric latte!
We’re big fans of the calcium-fortified plant-based milks by the Victoria-born and bred brand Pureharvest. After introducing Aussies to naturally sweet and slightly nutty-tasting rice milk back in the early 90s, they’ve since expanded their rice milk range to include a variety fortified with organic calcium - derived from marine plants! One cup of their organic Aussie Dream Enriched Rice Milk gives you a hearty 110 mg of calcium – and without undesirable added sugar and funny ingredients like carrageenan (a common thickening agent in plant-based milks).
Other dairy free, calcium-rich foods worth incorporating into your diet:
- An especially good source of calcium is canned salmon or sardines if you aren’t vegan – make sure to eat the edible bones, that’s where the calcium is.
- Cooked cannellini (white) beans
- Cooked leafy green vegetables – particularly Bok choy, but also kale and broccoli
- Almonds, walnuts and sesame seeds
Note that if you’re lactose intolerant – meaning your body can’t break down the natural sugar or lactose in milk – there are dairy products which are lactose free or low in lactose, including hard cheeses like cheddar, and lactose free yoghurt (you might also find that you are okay with regular yoghurt, as the ‘good bacteria’ in quality yoghurt can help break down its lactose content).
Speak to your healthcare practitioner about the calcium in your diet, and whether or not supplementation is something to consider.
Source: Linus Pauling Institute Micronutrient Information Centre: Calcium 20183