Foods That Contain Calcium, Including Non-Dairy Sources
Keep your bones and body strong with these lesser-known calcium-rich foods
The dairy industry has done a good job of making sure we all know milk and related foods contain calcium, but they’re not the only sources. So what are the other foods that contain calcium?
Including foods that contain calcium in our diet contributes to healthy bones and teeth. Our bodies store calcium in our skeleton, and use it for building and repairing bones, so eating enough calcium-rich foods helps to keep these stores topped up.
Men and women require the same amounts of calcium throughout most of their lives, but during and after menopause women generally have a higher calcium requirement. Men tend to begin to struggle with similar age-related bone loss around five to 10 years later than women, while teenagers require a little more calcium than adults to support their growing bones.
If you’re deficient in calcium, it can lead to the weakening of bones and conditions like osteoporosis. Although deficiency is not always caused by dietary factors, it’s important to make sure you’re eating enough calcium.
To help, we’ll explain the role calcium plays in the body and the best sources of calcium, so you can ensure you consume the right amount from the most effective sources.
Why Do We Need Calcium?
Calcium is one of the main minerals the body uses for the maintenance of bones, muscle contractions (including your heartbeat) and ensuring normal blood clotting. It is the most abundant mineral found in the body, and 98% of it is stored in our skeleton. The body uses this as a reservoir for the constant remodelling of our bones throughout our lives.
We are constantly reabsorbing calcium from our bones and depositing it into new bone tissue, so it is important to ensure that our diets consist of plenty of foods that contain calcium to support this process. A Cochrane review of studies in 2018 indicated that calcium supplementation during pregnancy may reduce the risk of the mother developing pre-eclampsia or giving birth prematurely, particularly if their diets were already low in calcium.
Where Can We Get Calcium?
Say calcium and most of us think of dairy, and while it is an excellent source, calcium is also found in high amounts in tinned sardines. There are also many plant sources of calcium, but some of these contain compounds that decrease the amount of calcium the body absorbs from food by creating indigestible salts when combined with the calcium. That means the calcium in dairy is more bioavailable than the calcium in spinach. Many flours, cereals and plant milks are also fortified with calcium.
Dietitian Cristy Dean of Fettle and Bloom also encourages vitamin D consumption to help absorb calcium. “If you have a calcium-rich diet without enough vitamin D you cannot absorb the calcium into your bones and cells where it is needed,” she says. “Aim to follow UK advice and take 10mcg of vitamin D during the winter months as a minimum.”
The good news is that these supplements are cheap and readily available – our best vitamin D supplements can help guide you.
Best Sources Of Calcium
Dairy products are one of the best sources of calcium, which is why milk is good for you and cheese is good for you (in appropriate amounts). If you follow a vegan diet, you will find lots of dairy alternatives that are fortified with calcium, as well as legumes and green leafy vegetables.
- Parmesan – 884mg per 100g
- Cheddar – 707mg per 100g
- Mozzarella – 693 mg per 100g
- Sardines (with bones) – 382mg per 100g
- Salmon – 26mg per 100g
- Mackerel – 12mg per 100g
- Plant-based milks
- Unsweetened almond milk – 120mg per 100ml
- Oat milk – 130mg per 100g
- Soy milk – 101mg per 100g
- Whole milk – 123mg per 100g
- Greek yogurt – 111mg per 100g
- Sour cream – 101mg per 100g
- Kale – 254 mg per 100g
- Beet leaves – 117mg per 100g
- Broccoli – 46mg per 100g
- Meat alternatives
- Tempeh – 111mg per 100g
- Firm silken tofu – 36mg per 100g
Symptoms Of Calcium Deficiency
A calcium deficiency can lead to skeletal issues such as rickets in children or osteomalacia and osteoporosis in adults. This is particular prevalent among post-menopausal women, who lose bone mass rapidly after menopause. As we age, our bones naturally lose density, but this process is sped up in those with osteoporosis.
“Vegans are also at risk of falling short of the recommended daily intake for calcium,” Dr Daniel Fenton, clinical director at London Doctors Clinic, told Coach. “Eating more tofu, tahini, almonds and green, leafy vegetables can help to top up calcium levels.”
If you are struggling to meet your daily requirement from foods that contain calcium, you can purchase calcium supplements (often combined with vitamin D) in most supermarkets and pharmacies.
Dean advises that adults should aim for 700mg of calcium per day. “This can be achieved by eating three servings of calcium-rich food each day,” she says. “Those who are breastfeeding, have coeliac disease, osteoporosis or inflammatory bowel disease, or are past the menopause have greater requirements and so may be more at risk of deficiency.”
Taking too much calcium, however, can lead to calcium toxicity. In fact, ingesting more than 3,000mg per day puts you at risk of hypercalcemia, a build-up of calcium in the blood that causes kidney stones and issues with heart, brain and muscle function. It is best to stick to recommended daily amounts when supplementing, and to check with your doctor before starting a new supplement routine.
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Lou Mudge is a Health Writer for Future Plc, working across Coach, Fit&Well, Live Science, TechRadar, T3 and Tom's Guide. Based in Bath, UK, she has a passion for food, nutrition and health. She's eager to demystify diet culture in order to make health and fitness accessible to everybody, and is a champion of sustainable training and eating practices.
Multiple diagnoses in her early 20s sparked an interest in the gut-brain axis, and the impact that diet and exercise can have on both physical and mental health. She was put on the FODMAP elimination diet during this time and learned to adapt recipes to fit these parameters, while retaining core flavours and textures, and now enjoys cooking for gut health.