11 Non-Dairy Foods That Help To Increase Calcium Consumption

by Tiffany Naticchioni, RDN, LD

Last Updated: July 2, 2020

A cup of milk can be a great source of calcium in a healthy diet. But what about plant based alternatives? We’ve put together a few suggestions for calcium-rich dairy alternatives that provide as much or more calcium than your average cup of milk.

Calcium is naturally present in dairy foods such as milk, yogurt and cheese, and can also be found in plant-based foods. It is recommended that both male and female adults ages 19-50 should intake 1,000 milligrams daily, and females ages 51-70 should increase to 1,200 milligrams daily. To put that into perspective, a cup of milk contains 25-30% of the daily value or about 300 milligrams of the total recommended daily allowance. Calcium is essential for building and maintaining strong bones, muscle function, and is involved in hormone regulation. In fact, levels of calcium in the blood are very tightly regulated, and, when blood calcium levels drop, the thyroid is stimulated to pull calcium out of the bones.

Tips for calcium intake:

For optimal absorption, focus on consuming no more than 500 mg of calcium at a time. When the dose increases above 500 mg, absorption actually decreases. The body takes around two hours to absorb this important mineral, which takes place in the duodenum (small intestine) after leaving the stomach. The duodenum can only assimilate up to 500 mg in those two hours and, if more is ingested than can be processed, it is unlikely that the entire consumption will be able to be absorbed.

Leafy greens are a great source of calcium but some varieties also contain oxalates, which are plant-based compounds that bind to the calcium thus making the calcium unavailable. Leafy greens containing oxalates include beet greens, Swiss chard, rhubarb, and spinach. If you enjoy these foods, be sure to continue to include them in your diet as they contain many important vitamins and minerals but try not to rely on these foods for meeting calcium needs, as the calcium is better available from other food sources.

Non-dairy, high calcium food sources include:
  1. Orange juice, calcium fortified – 349 mg per serving/27% daily value (DV)
  2. Soymilk, calcium fortified - 299 mg per serving/23% DV
  3. Tofu, made with calcium sulfate (4 ounces):
    • Hard type- 253 mg per serving/19% DV
    • Soft Type- 138 mg per serving/11% DV
  4. Salmon, pink, canned, bone-in (3 ounces)- 181 mg per serving/14% DV
  5. Breakfast cereals fortified with 10% DV- 130 mg per serving/10% DV
  6. Turnip greens, fresh, boiled (4 ounces)- 99 mg per serving/8% DV
  7. Kale (8 ounces)
    • Fresh, cooked- 94 mg per serving/7% DV
    • Raw, chopped- 24 mg per serving/2% DV
  8. Chia seeds (1 tablespoon)- 76 mg per serving/6% DV
  9. Bok choi, raw (8 ounces)- 74 mg per serving/6% DV
  10. Bread (one slice)
    • White- 73 mg per serving/6% DV
    • Whole wheat- 30 mg per serving/2% DV
  11. Broccoli, raw (4 ounces)- 21 mg per serving/2% DV

Supplements can also be helpful when not absorbing enough vitamins or minerals through food sources. However, it is important to check with a healthcare professional before starting a new supplement regimen. Over the counter (OTC) supplemental sources include products like:
  • Calcium carbonate or citrate: Brand names like Tums or Rolaids can be used as a calcium supplement for people who have normal stomach acid levels. Each dose can contribute 200-750 milligrams of elemental calcium, depending on the product and strength.

Every growing body needs calcium for proper development and maintenance. As women get older calcium becomes more important to prevent osteopenia or osteoporosis diseases. Additionally, those who follow a vegan diet, are dairy allergic or intolerant, or those who are simply looking to add variety, can look to these sources for adequate amounts of calcium. Have fun experimenting with new recipes including these foods to help meet your calcium needs.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.

Tiffany Naticchioni, RDN, LD

Tiffany Naticchioni, RDN, LD

Tiffany is a compassionate dietitian with experience in nutrition throughout her lifespan along with empowering those with diabetes and heart disease to use food as medicine. A believer in total body wellness, she has a decade of experience as a licensed massage therapist. With a passion for healthy living, she practices hot yoga, enjoys most any fitness activities, stays active in the community, and loves spending time with her family.