Alternative calcium options instead of milk

Calcium is an essential nutrient to the body, however some people’s bodies may reject milk. There are alternative options to receive calcium, other than milk.

October 18, 2018 - Author: Michelle Gordon-Releford,

Updated from an original article written by Lindsey Pung-Terry, pungli@msu.edu, and Summer Lippert.

Spinach in a colander.
Dark green, leafy vegetables, like spinach, are a good, non-dairy source of calcium.

The first thing that comes to mind for most people when calcium is mentioned is milk and dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese. However, there are other sources of calcium as well. Those who are lactose intolerant, have milk allergies or simply do not enjoy the taste of milk can consume  alternative options to receive this essential nutrient. According to The National Institutes of Health (NIH), calcium is the most plentiful mineral found in the body. The majority of calcium is stored in the bones and teeth, but it is also found in nerve cells and in the blood. Calcium helps your body perform many functions such as building strong bones and teeth, sending and receiving nerve signals, muscle contraction, release of hormones, proper blood clotting and for maintaining a normal heartbeat.

Dairy isn’t the only way for youth and adults to consume the recommended 1,000 – 1,300 milligrams needed every day. This is especially important for people who have lactose intolerance or who don’t eat dairy products. The NIH recommends eating the following non-dairy foods to receive the adequate calcium needed for the body:

  • Dark green, leafy vegetables (such as spinach, broccoli, okra, and collard greens)
  • Some types of fish (canned sardines and salmon)
  • Sesame seeds, flax seeds, almonds, and brazil nuts
  • Soybeans and white beans

Foods that are fortified with calcium (calcium is added) are also a good option. Some examples include:

  • Tofu and tempeh (with added calcium sulfate)
  • Calcium-fortified orange juice
  • Soy and rice beverages with added calcium
  • Calcium-fortified cereals or breads

Calcium supplements are an additional, alternative way to get calcium for children and adults who do not drink or cannot have milk or milk products. Michigan State University Extension suggests that you check with your health care provider and/or registered dietitian before making any changes to your diet.

Food labels on packaged, bottled and canned foods show how much calcium is in one serving of food. Look at the percent Daily Value (or % DV) next to the calcium number on the food label. To learn more about how to read food labels, a great resource is How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label.

These simple tips are meant to provide general recommendations on how to incorporate healthier options into your life. If you would like to learn more about healthy eating and wellness, visit Michigan State University Extension. MSU Extension offers various educational programs for adults, families and children that focus on lifestyle changes to promote healthy eating and wellness. 

Tags: calcium, dairy, food & health, msu extension, nutrition

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