You Don’t Eat Dairy? How Do You Get Your Calcium Then?
I gave up dairy a few years ago when I found out I was intolerant to it. Whenever somebody finds out that I don’t eat or drink it anymore, I inevitably get asked ‘but where do you get your calcium from then?’ A fair question and one that I too asked as I think it was always drummed into me as a kid to drink milk and eat cheese to get calcium. I’m pretty sure I thought it was the only way to get calcium.
I don’t think I was that surprised when I found out I had a dairy intolerance. I instinctively didn’t like a lot of cheeses as I would often note stomach pains after eating them but I loved sweet milky tea, yogurt and ice-cream! It was tough giving those up for sure but the benefits outweighed these things so it was definitely worth it. But I was also concerned about not getting enough calcium.
But, I have since learnt that there are loads of non-dairy ways to get calcium and there is an ever-increasing number of dairy alternatives out there.
Why Do We Need Calcium?
Most people would associate calcium with healthy bones and teeth. Which is correct but calcium is also important for other things such as muscle development, healthy blood pressure, regulating the body’s pH and skin health.
Importance of Other Vitamins and Minerals
Calcium actually relies on Vitamin D, Vitamin K and magnesium to get absorbed and do its job properly. The body uses magnesium to convert vitamin D into its active form so that it can be used in calcium absorption. Magnesium is also used in the creation of the hormone calcitonin which keeps calcium in the bones and out of the blood stream meanwhile Vitamin K also helps keep calcium in bones and out of arteries and muscles.
Unfortunately a lot of people are lacking these vitamins and minerals nowadays.
For example, a friend of mine recently found out she was low in calcium which she was surprised at, as she consumes a lot of dairy. Her problem may not be the lack of calcium but rather a lack in the vitamins and minerals that help her absorb calcium!
Non-Dairy Sources of Calcium
An interesting fact is that not all the calcium we consume is absorbed. It’s said that only about a third of the calcium from dairy products is absorbed and there are actually other food sources which are more absorbable which could be down to the presence of Vitamin D, K and Magnesium.
My favourite places to get calcium are from dark leafy greens, tinned fish with bones, fortified non-dairy milks and bone broth.
Dark, Leafy Greens
Kale, bok choy, broccoli, swiss chard and collard greens are all great sources of calcium that is easily absorbed. They are also great sources of Vitamin K, A, C, E, folate and B-vitamins so they are all-round power houses! I try to have a green smoothie once a day and add some of these greens to most of my meals.
Source: Instagram @ahealthyhappyglow
Tinned fish with bones
A quick, easy and cheap way of getting some calcium is tinned fish like sardines or salmon which still have the bones. The bones are usually soft and easy to eat. And before you dismiss this option, as someone who used to have a fear of eating fish with bones (yes, really!), I honestly don’t notice the bones. Plus since these oily fish are also a great source of Vitamin D, they enhance digestion of the calcium and make it more usable. Bonus! I try to have tinned fish a few times a week.
Source: Instagram @ahealthyhappyglow
Boiling and simmering the bones over long periods of time allows the calcium and other minerals to dissolve in to the water which you drink. Bone broth is also full of other amazing nutrients so it’s definitely something I’ll be consuming more of in the winter months.
There are many other food sources of calcium including:
- Spinach and seaweed
- Figs and oranges
- Blackstrap molasses
- Sesame Seeds
- Fortified dairy alternative milks (such as coconut, nut, rice milks)
So what are your favourite sources of calcium?