Calcium is an essential mineral involved in numerous body processes related to muscle and nerve function. It’s also key to building and maintaining strong bones. Current Recommended Dietary Allowances, or RDAs, for calcium for adults and children age 4 and older generally range from 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams per day, though pregnancy, lactation and certain medical conditions or use of medications can impact calcium metabolism and needs.
Dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese are perhaps the best-known dietary sources of calcium. There are some people who don’t include milk products in their diets whether due to lactose intolerance, milk protein allergy, a vegan diet or simply preference. A lot of people think supplements and fortified foods are the only choices to meet their calcium needs when milk is off the menu, and while those things certainly have their place to address gaps in the diet, there are lots of non-dairy foods that are natural sources of calcium.
Some High-calcium Foods to Try:
- Tofu made with calcium-sulfate 350 mg per ½ cup
- Sardines, canned, with bones 325 mg per 3 ounces
- Cooked collard greens 210 mg per ½ cup
- Cooked bok choy 190 mg per ½ cup
- Canned salmon 181 mg per 3 ounces
- Figs 135 mg per 5 figs
- Cooked white beans 120 mg per ½ cup
- Cooked spinach 99 mg per ½ cup
- Almonds 93 mg per ¼ cup
- Cooked kale 90 mg per 1 cup, raw
- Chia seeds 60 mg per tablespoon
- Sesame seeds 51 mg per tablespoon
Keep in mind that one cup of cow’s milk provides about 300 milligrams of calcium. Also, to help your body efficiently absorb calcium, make sure you’re consuming adequate vitamin D, whether through food sources or a combination of food and supplementation. Current Recommended Dietary Allowances for adults under 70 and kids over 13 is 600 IU per day. For adults over 70, the recommendation is 800 IU per day. Vitamin D food sources include fatty fish and fish liver oils as well as eggs, mushrooms grown under UV light and beef liver. Supplementation may be needed.
Here’s an example of how easy it can be to boost your calcium intake by incorporating a few calcium-rich foods into each meal. This recipe packs in a whopping 495 milligrams per serving.
Sesame Kale and Tofu
Recipe developed by Jessica Cording, MS, RD, CDN
- 1 cup cooked quinoa
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 15-ounce block tofu, cut into cubes
- 4 cups kale, torn into small pieces
- ¼ cup sesame seeds
- Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about one minute.
- Add tofu. Stir a few times to prevent sticking. Cook until just beginning to brown.
- Add kale. Cook until wilted.
- Toss quinoa into kale and tofu mixture.
- Divide stir-fry between four dishes. Garnish each dish with a tablespoon of sesame seeds.