Did you think the dairy aisle was the only place to get calcium?
Even if you aren’t an expert in nutrition, you probably know a thing or two about calcium. Most people know the mineral is important for bone health, and you probably picture a glass of milk or a yogurt parfait. When it comes to good food sources of calcium, everyone tends to think of dairy first.
However, experts now have a more nuanced understanding of calcium and bone health. Strong bones require other key nutrients, according to the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health: vitamin K, vitamin D, protein, and vitamin A, to name a few.
And another thing: Dairy products can be high in saturated fats and cholesterol, and consuming large quantities of full-fat dairy every day may increase your risk of heart disease. For this reason, nutrition experts recommend getting your calcium from a variety of dietary sources—not just dairy.
The National Academy of Sciences recommends 1,000 mg of calcium per day for people ages 19 to 50—including women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Those over 50 should increase their intake to 1,200 mg. However, this recommendation is high and is meant to ensure adequate intake. By contrast, the World Health Organization (WHO) simply suggests a minimum of 400 to 500 mg of calcium per day to prevent osteoporosis. WHO also stresses other crucial habits besides calcium intake to keep bones healthy, such as physical activity, low sodium intake, and ample consumption of fresh fruits and veggies.
Here are some of the top sources of calcium, in and out of the dairy aisle.
Low-fat yogurt: 415 mg in 8 oz
Collard greens: 357 mg in 1 cup (cooked)
Skim milk: 306 mg in 1 cup
Soy milk: 306 m in 1 cup, depending on the brand
Black-eyed peas: 211 mg in 1 cup
Canned salmon: 181 mg in 3 oz
Calcium-set tofu: 163 mg in 3 oz
Bok choy: 158 mg in 1 cup (cooked)
A non-dairy source of calcium, such as collard greens, has benefits beyond bone health, such as a ton of digestion-friendly fiber and a host of nutrients—folate, phosphorus, and potassium, to name a few. It also has far fewer calories than dairy, has no saturated fat, and contains zero grams of cholesterol (nice!).
Calcium: What's best for your bones and health? Cambridge, MA: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (Accessed on July 6, 2017 at https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/calcium-full-story/.)
Diet, nutrition and the prevention of chronic diseases. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization, 2002. Report no. 916. (Accessed on July 20, 2017 at http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/publications/trs916/en/gsfao_osteo.pdf.)
Duyff, RL. Complete food & nutrition guide. 5th ed. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2017.
USDA food composition databases. Beltsville, MD: U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Accessed on July 6, 2017 at https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list.)