Basics: Calcium 101
Where do you get your calcium from if you don’t consume dairy products? This is a common question I get from people when they hear that we are a dairy-free family. Here you will find a ton of information as to why eliminating dairy products could benefit your health and how to get the calcium from other sources besides dairy.
We know calcium is needed to build strong bones, but what you don’t probably know is that it also affects muscles, hormones, nerve function, enzymes, blood clotting, and much more. Most all the calcium in our bodies is stored in our bones, while bones feel rock hard, they are actually living tissue that is constantly creating new bone while the old bone is destroyed. Our bodies do a good job at regulating the calcium in our blood, but if we aren’t supplying our bodies with enough calcium then our bodies will pull from our calcium reservoir, yes that’s right, our bones. So how do we get maintain healthy bones?
Is Milk Good For You?
Even though the average milk consumption has dropped 8% in the past ten years, it‘s still almost twice the volume of dairy consumption as our neighboring countries. Now, it has been stated for years that dairy is high in calcium, it is good for bone health, and that it has necessary protein and vitamin D which our body needs. Let me start by saying this, dairy is not needed to get proper calcium. What may have been effective, even necessary 100 years ago, does not work now due to changes in our bodies, environment, processing and pasteurization. What researchers are saying is that calcium in milk is barely absorbed (especially if pasteurized) and that it can likely deplete the calcium stored in the body.
Research shows that dairy has high amounts of cholesterol and saturated fats, which have been known to increase the risk of stroke and heart attacks. Dr. T. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study and professor of nutritional biochemistry at Cornell University, found that the protein that creates cancer is casein. The casein protein makes up about 87 percent of the protein in cow’s milk. According to Dr. Campbell, a diet that contains more than 10% protein, which is about 50 grams if a person consumes an average of 2,000 calories per day, can eventually lead to cancer. In reality, Americans eat way more than that. On average, the American diet contains 17% protein and 12% is usually animal base.
So, when you drink a glass of milk, it actually makes the pH levels in the body acidic, which then triggers a biological correction to neutralize the body and bring it back to balance. Since calcium is an excellent neutralizer, the body will pull the very same calcium that the bones need. Using it to balance out the acidic effect that the milk and other animal proteins have on the body, leaving you possible deficient in calcium.
Best Plant Sources for Calcium
If your living a dairy free lifestyle either by choice or by need, know that you don’t have to consume dairy to get the proper calcium your body needs. There are many calcium rich foods that are both dairy-free and delicious. All of which are alkalizing and low in fat.
Dark Leafy Greens
- collard greens (27% DV per cup cooked),
- spinach (24% DV per cup cooked)
- turnip greens (20% DV per cup cooked)
- mustard greens (17% DV per cup cooked)
- arugula (13% DV per cup)
- seaweeds/kelp (13% DV per cup)
- swiss chard (10% DV per cup cooked)
- kale (9% DV per cup cooked)
- watercress (8% DV per cup)
Fruits & Vegetables
- bok choy (16% DV per cup cooked),
- okra (12%DV per cup cooked),
- broccoli (6% DV per cup cooked)
- figs (6% DV per cup dried)
Nuts & Seeds
- almonds (38% DV per cup)
- brazil nuts (21% DV per cup)
- sunflower seeds (10% DV per cup)
- quinoa (8% DV per cup)
- chia seeds (8% DV per tablespoon)
- tahini/sesame seeds (6% DV per tablespoons)
- flaxseeds (3% DV per tablespoon)
- organic tofu (77% DV per cup firm),
- soy bean (26% DV per cup)
- white beans (20% DV per cup)
- split peas (11% DV per cup)
How much calcium do I need?
The amount of calcium you need depends on your age and whether you are a man or women. Typical women need more calcium because of the fluctuation of hormones in the body from menstruation, pregnancy, lactation and menopause. The average daily recommended amounts are listed below in milligrams (mg).
|Birth to 6 months||200 mg|
|Infants 7–12 months||260 mg|
|Children 1–3 years||700 mg|
|Children 4–8 years||1,000 mg|
|Children 9–13 years||1,300 mg|
|Teens 14–18 years||1,300 mg|
|Adults 19–50 years||1,000 mg|
|Adult men 51–70 years||1,000 mg|
|Adult women 51–70 years||1,200 mg|
|Adults 71 years and older||1,200 mg|
|Pregnant and breastfeeding teens||1,300 mg|
|Pregnant and breastfeeding adults||1,000 mg|
The amount of calcium you need from a supplement all depends on how much your getting from food. I recommend getting your daily dose of calcium from food first and supplement only if needed. Calcium supplements can sometimes cause unpleasant stomach discomfort like gas and constipation. I often recommend to people when starting calcium supplements to start with a small amount and slowly build up. Because the body has a hard time absorbing a large amount of calcium at once, spreading out the intake of calcium is recommended, it is best absorbed when taken in amounts of 500 mg or less. Start with 200 mg and slowly add more each week. Always take with food as eating produces stomach acid that helps your body absorb most calcium supplements, eat foods high in vitamin D and magnesium with your supplement which helps with the absorption process. Talk with your healthcare provider on how you should supplement calcium, if at all.
Just because calcium enters the body, doesn’t mean it’s absorbed properly by the body. The necessity of Vitamin D is yet another reason we often hear, “Got Milk?”. Vitamin D and Magnesium are both necessary for the body to use calcium and without these, calcium won’t be absorbed correctly. The main reason why many calcium supplements often contain vitamin D is for that reason. If your body cannot absorb the calcium due to a Vitamin D deficiency, you may lose bone, have lower bone density, and are more likely to break bones as you age. The best way to fill the body with vitamin D is simple. Get out in the beautiful sunshine!
In addition to vitamin D, magnesium is also needed and must be in proper ratio to absorb calcium correctly. Our modern diets today are often very high in calcium from synthetic sources and very low in magnesium. Magnesium is used by the body to convert vitamin D into its active form so that it can be used to absorb calcium proper. Vitamin K is also important for calcium synthesis. It helps keep calcium in the bones and out of arteries and muscles. Our bodies is one complex machine and understanding how it all works helps us with feeding our body the very best. When it comes to calcium absorption it’s far more effective if you also incorporating vitamin D, magnesium, and vitamin K.
Dairy Free Foods
Explore a dairy free diet can lead to many added health benefits. Many who have quit dairy found that their chronic congestion, digestive problems, ear infections, and/or acne vanished within weeks sometimes days even. Nutritionally speaking, half of the calories in whole milk come from fat (saturated fat) and nearly all of its carbohydrates come from sugar—all of it in the form of lactose, which many aren’t able to properly digest.
The idea of removing all dairy products from your diet may seem a bit challenging. Luckily, more and more people are shifting to a dairy free diet, inspiring more companies to create dairy free products.
- Milks – Nondairy milks, such as almond, soy and rice, coconut and even cashews are available and can replace milk in most recipes. Companies like Silk have a wide variety to choose from. But nothing compares to fresh from the kitchen.
- Cheese – I often hear from people that cheese is the hardest thing to give up. American’s eat around 33 lbs of cheese per person per year. That’s 3 times more than they did in 1970’s. There are many cheese alternatives to help wean you off the cheese. My favorite is the Follow Your Heart brand.
- Butter – Your love for morning toast doesn’t have to end just because you eliminate butter from your diet. Dairy-free or vegan butter substitutes come in stick and spreadable forms. I often use Earth Balance, they have a wide range from soy-free to olive oil, and all are certified organic. My favorite right now is the coconut spread, it’s highly addictive!
- Ice Creams – If ice cream is your weakness, and your really looking to cut out dairy than there are many dairy-free ice cream on the market. Companies like So Delicious have a wide selection to choose from. Although I do recommend making your own either using frozen bananas or any other frozen fruit.
I hope this post helps with understanding dairy and how to get calcium from plant sources. Use this as a resource and bookmark for later as I will be adding to it as I learn more. Share & comment below, I’d love to hear what dairy-free products you love and what other topics you would like me to cover. Stay tuned :)