Since eliminating most dairy from my diet I am very regularly posed with the question - "But where do you get your calcium?!"

Today we are going to answer this question for you and let you know that those choosing to refrain from dairy in their diet (whether it be for personal or health reasons), CAN absolutely meet their daily calcium needs. 

Why do we need calcium?
In short, calcium is one of the most plentiful minerals in our body. It is most commonly associated with fostering the good health of bones and teeth. Calcium also promotes skin health, health blood pressure and muscle development.

How much calcium do you need? 
Check out this table, as recommended by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, as a guide for your recommended daily dietary intake of calcium.

Be aware that not all of the calcium we consume will actually be absorbed, it all depends on the source of the calcium. For instance, dairy offers a relatively low absorption rate (at just 32% of calcium able to be absorbed by our body). Contrast this with foods such as dark leafy greens or fish with bones and the absorption rate increases markedly.

Category Age RDI
Children 1-3
Teenagers 12-18
Women 19-50
Men 19-70
Pregnancy 14-18

For those that are calcium deficient, it is generally not because they don't consume enough in the way of calcium rich foods, but because their bodies lack the essential supporting vitamins and minerals to allow the proper absorption of the calcium. Which leads us to...

Friends of calcium.
Vitamin D and Magnesium are calciums friends. These vitamins and minerals directly influence the absorption and metabolism of calcium within the body. If you are deficient in either of these, calcium deficiency is likely as a result.

As a guideline, an adult should work towards 350-500 milligrams of magnesium per day, and 1000-2000 milligrams of Vitamin D. In the coming weeks I will discuss the sources of these minerals in more depth. 

By contrast, calcium has a few foes too. Phytic acid, which we have spoken about previously as being found in nuts, seeds and legumes, is an anti-nutrient that binds to calcium (and other minerals) and essentially prevents its absorption. To prevent this occurring, the process of 'activating' your nuts and seeds is important. Doing so removes the phytates and thus makes the calcium within these foods more available to your body.

An unhealthy gut, excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption and a diet too high in salt can also work against calcium too.

What about calcium supplements?
So after all this you might be thinking, "well, getting my calcium seems hard! I'll just go take a supplement". Here is an article by Chris Kresser MD that highlights why you should not do so frivolously. 

You can indeed consume too much calcium with negative effects. At any one time the body can really only handle 600 milligrams, any more and extra calcium collects in the bloodstream, which may lead to kidney stones and heart issues. You can read more about the adverse effects of over consumption here. I wouldn't be alarmed though, over consumption without additional supplementation if you are consuming a healthy and balanced diet, is unlikely.

THI's top 10 picks of non dairy sources of calcium.

1. Sardines (bony fish): 320mg in approximately 7 sardines. That's 32% of your RDI.

2. Dried Figs: 105mg in 8 whole figs (10% RDI)

3. Kale: 200mg in 2 cups (20% RDI)

4. White beans: 200mg in 1 cup (20% RDI)

5. Seaweed: 130mg in 1 cup (14% RDI)

6. Blackstrap molasses: 180mg in 1 tablespoon (18% RDI)

7. Almonds: 75mg in 20 nuts (7% RDI)

8. Bok Choy: 75mg in 1 cup (7% RDI)

9. Tempeh: 185mg in 1 cup (18% RDI)

10. Tahini: 130mg in 2 tablespoons (14% RDI).

So the long and the short of it is this - calcium from dairy is actually not as bioavailable to our bodies as in some other food sources, and by choosing alternatives you may also be increasing your intake of other valuable vitamins and minerals. That's not to say my recommendation is to remove dairy entirely, if it works well with you and your body. Why not try putting together a meal plan for yourself, making use of all the information provided above, to ensure your daily calcium needs are being met? I'd love to see what you come up with.

Do know that we have a heap of calcium friendly recipe inspiration all over our site. Simply use the search function to type in 'tahini' or 'almonds', who know what you will find!

Stay tuned for more on Magnesium and Vitamin D too!

January 30, 2015 — Amy Crawford

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