If you suffer from lactose intolerance or have an allergy to cows milk, you’ll know that getting enough calcium into your diet every day can be quite difficult, particularly when health promotion mainly focusses on dairy as your best source of this important mineral. Although dairy is a rich source of calcium and is where the majority of Australians get their calcium from it’s definitely not the only source.
Below are non-dairy sources of calcium and a guideline to help you achieve the recommended intake levels for both adults and children.
Non-dairy sources of calcium
- Kale, mustard and collard greens – these dark green leafy vegetables can contain up to 350mg of calcium in 1 cup. Use it in lasagne, shredded in pasta sauces, in stews and soups or even steamed and drizzle with lemon juice.
- Tofu processed with calcium sulphate – tofu, made from soy, is processed in a number of different ways, one of which makes this generally vegetarian staple a good source of calcium. 120g of tofu processed with calcium contains about 200 – 330mg of calcium. Add tofu to stir-fries, curry and soups. Check the packaging for more details on how it was processed.
- Soy milk – the most common substitute for cows milk is soy milk. In order to make the substitute provide comparable amounts of calcium you need to choose calcium-fortified soy milk. 1 cup of fortified soy milk contains about 200 – 300mg of calcium.
- Soy yoghurt – soy yoghurt varies in it’s calcium content and it generally depends on how the soy was processed when it comes to how much calcium it contains. a 200g tub of soy yoghurt contains between 80 – 250mg of calcium.
- Soy beans – 1 cup of cooked soy beans contains about 175mg of calcium. Add them to stews, your slow cooker meals, soups, salads and curries.
- Bok choy – 1 cup cooked bok choy contains about 160mg of calcium. Add this to stir-fries, warm asian salads, curries or as a side dish to fish and chicken.
- Broccoli – 1 cup of cooked broccoli contains about 100mg of calcium. You can serve it raw and dip in hummus, add it to stir-fries and curries or serve with a roast dinner.
- Tahini – tahini is made from sesame seeds, another source of calcium, and 2 tbsp contains 128mg of calcium. Add tahini to dips, salad dressings and yoghurt based sauces.
- Almond butter – a healthy alternative to regular butter or even margarine, is almond butter. 2 tbsp contains 85mg calcium.
- Tinned salmon – 1/2 cup of tinned with bones contains about 400mg of calcium. Add this to sandwiches with cream cheese, cucumber and dill, stir through cous cous with shallots, feta and baby spinach.
- Tinned sardines – tinned sardines that contain bones are also a good source of calcium. Have them on toast with tomato paste or as part of a pasta sauce.
- Brazil nuts and almonds – 15 almonds contain 40mg of calcium
- Fortified foods – some bread, breakfast cereals and drink bases (Milo, Ovaltine, Sustagen) are also good sources of calcium. Check the packaging for information regarding fortification and how much calcium there is per serve.
Please note: some of these options are not suitable for individuals with dairy allergies.
Recommended Daily Intake for (RDI) Calcium
The RDI for calcium of different age groups and stages of life are listed below:
- 270mg per day for babies aged 6 – 12 months old
- 500mg per day for children aged 1 – 3 years old
- 700mg per day for children aged 4 – 8 years old
- 1000mg per day for children aged 9 – 11 years old
- 1300mg per day for adolescents aged 12 – 18 years old (this RDI is also for pregnant and breast feeding young women)
- 1000mg per day for adults (this RDI is also for pregnant and breast feeding women)
- 1300mg per day for women over the age of 50
- 1300mg per day for men and women over the age of 70
These values are taken from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).
Example Meal Plans
Below are a couple of meal and snack ideas to show you how to achieve the calcium RDI for children and adults who can’t regularly consume dairy products.
- 40g calcium fortified breakfast cereal with 1/2 cup soy milk = 300 – 350mg calcium
- 200g soy yoghurt with fruit = 80 – 250mg calcium
- 2 slices of bread with almond butter = 285mg calcium
- 2 slices of bread with 1/2 cup tinned salmon with green leafy salad = 600mg calcium
- Green leafy salad with cooked soy beans = 175mg calcium
- Sardines in tomato sauce on toast (warm under the grill) = 400mg calcium
- 1-2 cups of kale, broccoli, spinach and mustard greens served with grilled meat or fish and topped with a soy yoghurt and tahini sauce (mix 100g soy yoghurt with 1 tbsp tahini, a variety of chopped fresh herbs such as parsley and chives and a tbsp of lemon juice) = 400mg calcium
- A tofu asian style stir fry. Add bok choy and sesame seeds = 360mg calcium
- Add tinned salmon with bones to a tomato based pasta sauce = 300 – 400mg of calcium
- Sprinkle Milo, Ovaltine or Sustagen over cut banana = 50mg calcium
- A tub of soy yogurt = 80 – 250mg calcium
- Chopped fresh vegetables with a tahini based dip = 50mg
An example meal plan
Although it may seem difficult to ensure adequate calcium intake without dairy products, with some careful planning you can adequately meet the RDI for both children and adults.
Breakfast: Cereal with soy milk – 300mg
Lunch: Blended vegetable soup with kale and leafy greens and toast with almond butter – 250mg
Dinner: Pasta with 1/4 cup tinned salmon and tomato pasta sauce – 200mg
This meal plan contains 750mg of calcium which very easily exceeds the RDI of 500mg for toddlers and meets the RDI of 700mg for young children. Adding in snacks such as soy nuts, soy yoghurt and soy milk drinks will bring the total to 1000 – 1300mg which meets the RDI for older children, adolescents and adults.
If you are a non-dairy eater or vegan, what meal and snack ideas can you share with the readers that help you get enough calcium in your diet every day?
Please note that not all the non-dairy calcium sources listed above are suitable for individuals with severe dairy allergies. Please see your GP or Dietitian for more specialised advice for your particular circumstance. Always check the nutrition labels and packaging of foods before you consume them.
Our dietitians can help you specifically with ensuring you have an adequate calcium intake if you’re unable to consume dairy.
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