If you don’t like cheese or you find yourself rushing to the bathroom shortly after eating it, don’t fret – you can still easily get that dose of calcium in for strong bones and teeth. (Plus, here’s why building bone mass is so important.)
It’s pretty common to have a dairy intolerance nowadays, and while most people associate calcium with cheese and milk, it’s actually found in many foods that don’t contain lactose. Plus, these foods are surprisingly excellent sources of calcium – the amount even rivals that of dairy.
If you aren’t lactose intolerant but find that eating excess dairy makes you break out or feel sluggish, it’s nice to know you can still protect your bones and muscles and get your fill elsewhere.
Most adults aged 19–50 should aim to have 1,000 mg of calcium daily, says Maggie Moon, MS, RD, and author of The MIND Diet. “Teens (9–13) should aim for 1,300 mg/day. After 50, men should still aim for 1,000 mg/day, but women should look for 1,200 mg/day. And, after 71, adults should aim for 1,200 mg/day,” she adds.
So what should you be eating to keep up with these requirements? Here, Moon shares a few top picks, all dairy-free.
One note on dosages: “Look for ways to add calcium throughout the day, with no more than 600 mg in one sitting. The body won’t absorb it. Ideally, include calcium-rich foods in snacks and meals to spread out doses of about 300–500 mg calcium each time,” Moon says.
If you get a package of tofu to make a delicious stir-fry at home, you’ll be getting lots of bone-building calcium. “A cup provides most of the day’s calcium (85% DV),” says Moon. Tofu is also a great source of vegetarian protein, which will keep you fuller longer and help repair muscle damage after working out.
It can be blended into soups and smoothies, baked into “fries,” or cubed and added to a vegetable stir-fry dish. (Try one of these stir-fry recipes for a quick weeknight meal.)
Can’t have cow’s milk? No problem! Almond milk is often fortified with calcium, providing half the day’s recommended calcium in every cup (50% DV per cup). And “Almond milk has more calcium than what’s in a cup of cow’s milk (35% DV),” says Moon. Be sure to read the nutrition facts to see if the milk is fortified.
Use it in soups, smoothies, cereal, coffee, and lattes as it has great flavor and is super versatile.
Don’t just save your edamame snacking when you’re at an Asian restaurant. Edamame is really good for you, and it makes a terrific snack or side to fight cravings and keep you satiated. The best part? Edamame has more calcium than a container of yogurt (20% DV), says Moon.
“Edamame with a touch of sea salt is a simple, plant-protein-packed appetizer. It can also be added to whole grain Buddha bowls and salads,” she says. (Plus, you can even use edamame noodles for a slimming pasta sub!)
Nothing is as easy as opening a can of salmon for a light lunch or snack. “Salmon offers an excellent source of calcium, heart-healthy unsaturated omega-3 fats, and vitamin D, and has zero contaminants,” says Moon. And with a mere three ounces of fish, you’ll get 20% DV.
Salmon is great on bagels and in sandwiches – or try it in a butter lettuce and blueberry salad with pickled shallots, she says. Yum.
These weird-looking leafy greens pack a crazy good-for-you calcium punch. In fact, a cup and a half of bok choy has about as much calcium as a serving of mozzarella (15% DV). Time to put down that cheese!
“I love taking baby bok choy, slicing it lengthwise, and letting it brown on a medium-hot pan with olive oil for three minutes; it creates a beautiful browning and great flavor,” says Moon. It can also be shredded into salads or vinegary slaws.
A powerhouse leafy green that detoxes the body and builds strong, sturdy bones, kale is the ultimate superfood. Similar to bok choy, kale has as much calcium as a serving of mozzarella (15% DV).
Cooking tip? “Roughly chop kale and add it to stews to let it soak up sauce and flavor,” says Moon. It’ll add some nutrients and greens and will taste less bitter in the sauce.
“It can also be thinly sliced and massaged for 5–10 minutes with your favorite dressing before being added to grain or green salads,” says Moon. Try a lemon dressing or something with some acidity for a light touch.
Or make a smoothie: Frozen kale can easily be blended with different flavors and textures as a way to sneakily get those greens in. (If you have picky children, make a smoothie with kale.)
What are your favorite ways to eat these high-calcium, non-dairy foods? Please share below!