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Q & A: Calcium Other Than Dairy

I got this question from a friend who was kind enough to let me share it with my lovely readers.

Question:

I’ve decided to give up animal products for Lent, so I’m essentially vegan, but I’m eating fish…My mom has osteoporosis and I want to make sure that I’m getting enough calcium since I’m not going to be eating dairy over the next month an a half. Do you know what foods I should be eating to make sure that I get enough calcium each day? I have calcium enriched soy milk, but are there certain vegetables that have a lot of calcium? Should I also be taking calcium supplements? I already try to take daily vitamins.

Answer:

Let me set the answer up by clearing what the calcium recommendations for males and females are.

  • 9-18 years old: 1,300 mg
  • 19-50 years old: 1,000 mg
  • 50 years and older: 1,200 mg

Dairy products, on average, supply 300 mg per serving and are the main contributors of calcium in the diet. This is where the 3-A-Day of Dairy comes from.

There are other foods that supply calcium, such as as salmon or sardines canned with bones, calcium-fortified orange juice, tofu made with calcium, calcium-fortified cereals, spinach, turnip greens, kale, and Chinese cabbage.

The challenge with the vegetables that contain calcium is that:

(1) you need to eat several servings of some vegetables to get to the recommended amount of calcium daily. This table from the Office of Dietary Supplements lists the calcium content of calcium-rich foods

(2) some calcium-containing vegetables, such as spinach, contain oxalate, a compound that binds to calcium and prevents its absorption, making itย  harder to get that calcium in your body.

Try your best to get the most amount of calcium you can from food. You can track your intake using the table I linked to above or use something like the MyPyramid Tracker to see how much you’re getting.

I don’t like to recommend supplements online, but I can give you the facts so you can make your own decision. If you’re not able to get enough calcium from food, a supplement might help. The most common are calcium carbonate or calcium citrate. Carbonate is cheaper, but you need to take it with food, while citrate can be absorbed on an empty stomach–and better for people with low stomach acid.

Another point to keep in mind: you can only absorb so much calcium at a time. Whether you’re taking it from food or a supplement, don’t take in more than 500 mg doses so your body can achieve maximum absorption.

Disclaimer: this post does not substitute medical care or diagnosis. Please consult with your physician before taking any supplements or medications.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Stef March 6, 2010, 11:52 pm

    calcium was a major concern of mine when i decided to go vegan (i currently am not vegan, i eat eggs and a little bit of dairy now). the funny thing is i probably get WAY MORE calcium now that i avoid dairy, because i eat a ton of leafy greens and tofu that is prepared using calcium sulfate, and when i was eating dairy i’d average just one yogurt per day. interesting info, thanks for sharing!

    • Nour El-Zibdeh, RD March 7, 2010, 3:39 pm

      Thanks stef! I’m glad you’re keeping your body nourished!

  • tasteofbeirut March 8, 2010, 9:44 am

    Thanks for the valuable info; I am sure I could use more calcium since most of my diet comes from chocolate!

    • Nour El-Zibdeh, RD March 8, 2010, 2:17 pm

      Thanks Joumana… how about chocoate milk? Satisfy the taste buds + get some calcium in ๐Ÿ™‚ have a good day!

  • Nicole, RD March 8, 2010, 12:35 pm

    Great information and a good question from your friend. I always ask my friends if I can share their questions with my blog readers ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Nour El-Zibdeh, RD March 8, 2010, 2:16 pm

      Thanks Nicole… that’s how the idea of blogging started! Feel free to use the info if you get a similar question

  • Joie de vivre March 8, 2010, 11:32 pm

    I had no idea that spinach inhibited absorbing the calcium it contained! Good post Nour!

  • Jessie March 9, 2010, 9:10 am

    Thanks for the calcium reminder! I’m not as good about getting calcium into my diet as I should (which is not good for an RD student!), so I appreciate the summary ๐Ÿ™‚

  • rebecca subbiah March 9, 2010, 9:36 am

    love the q and a do more good revision for us RDs!

  • Stella March 9, 2010, 7:17 pm

    Spinach and leafy greens do have compounds in them that hinder calcium absorption, however, much of the calcium is still absorbed by the body and in natural amounts unlike with fortified foods. I mean, I trust nature more than some dude in a laboratory working for supplement or milk companies! Maybe that’s just me???
    Very poignant write up, Nour! Oh, and what about Magnesium (smile)?

  • Nour El-Zibdeh, RD March 9, 2010, 8:31 pm

    Joie de Vivre: Thanks. 1/2 c cooked spinach has 120 mg calcium, which are not 100% absorbed… that doesn’t mean you don’t shouldn’t eat spinach–it’s good for tons of other stuff!

    Jessie: thanks for stopping by. Good luck with your path to becoming a RD.

    Rebecca: thanks…yeah grad school helps with keeping up with the science.. a long with taking tons of time!

    Thank you Stella. Unless you eat a lot of spinach, you probably aren’t getting enough calcium. Milk naturally has calcium, and yogurt even has a little more. I’m like you, I always recommend real food vs supplements, but sometimes, supplements are the only option. Check consumer reports to find a good quality supplement. What about magnesium? if you have a specific question, please write it through “contact me” page.

  • eatingRD March 10, 2010, 8:09 pm

    Hello! I’m glad you liked the lentil recipe, thanks for stopping by. Great post! I work with 8th graders and teaching them about calcium. It’s amazing what they have fortified with calcium and it’s always good to read the labels as different brands can have more/less calcium. Look forward to reading!

    • Nour El-Zibdeh, RD March 10, 2010, 11:20 pm

      Thanks Kristen how fun! Check out the activities at the dairy council website for school kids. Tons of foods r fortified, which is both good and bad. Despite that, calcium is stuill one of the hadest minerals to get 100 % of