People often ask me "Do you not worry about your calcium intake now that you do not eat dairy"?
Unfortunately people have been taught to automatically think of milk and dairy as the main source of calcium, to the detriment of other great sources.
Why do we need calcium?
All growing, active bodies use large amounts of calcium and if this calcium is not replenished through your diet, the body begins to take it from your bones causing brittle bones over time. Calcium is an important part of a healthy diet. It plays an essential role in bone density, muscle contraction, nerve function, blood pressure stability and healing.
Bones tend to be fully formed by the age of 17 and continue to strengthen up to the mid thirties. After this bones can begin to loose density if exercise, calcium and Vitamin D intakes are not considered.
According to http://www.irishosteoporosis.ie current guidelines recommend approximately 800mg of calcium per day for men, women and children, with teenagers and pregnant and nursing women benefiting from 1200mg per day . But if you are following a Paleo or Lactose free lifestyle where should you be looking for your calcium sources?
The following table shows the Calcium content in a number of foods, including some dairy products for comparison purposes:
Food Portion Size Calcium Content (mg)
Whole milk 190ml 224*
Semi-skimmed milk 190ml 231
Skimmed milk 190ml 235
Large orange 1 58
Dried apricot 100g 92
Brazil nuts 100g 170
Whitebait (fried) 56g 482
Salmon (tinned) 56g 52
Spinach 0.5 cup 99
Almonds 0.25 cup 93
Kale 0.5 cup 205*
Sesame Seeds 1tbs 51
*As you can see above, it is actually very plausible to gain full recommended daily allowance from non dairy sources. In fact, when you compare calcium content per serving size in milk and kale, kale actually contains the most.
The battle against brittle bones and inadequate calcium absorption does not begin and end with simply consuming calcium rich foods (or perceived calcium rich foods). A Yale study, which analysed 34 studies from 16 countries, found that the countries who consumed the most calcium rich foods actually had the highest number of cases of osteoporosis (source selectstores.ie). In contrast, in South Africa, where calcium intake is the lowest, osteoporosis is less prevalent. This highlights the point that other factors affect calcium absorption including excessive sugar intake or sedentary lifestyles.
The amount actually absorbed by the body from food varies greatly. For example, when one cup of milk is consumed, approximately 30% of the calcium is absorbed. Compare that to kale where up to 70% can be absorbed.
Eating a variety of non dairy foods is important. Consider adding kale to stews and casseroles, dipping your veggies in almond butter for snacking and adding almonds and broccoli to salads to increase calcium intake without the need for as much as a drop of milk!