Getting enough Calcium for a Non-Milk-Drinker

When it comes to osteoporosis, I’ve got multiple whammies – I’m a petite Asian woman who doesn’t drink enough milk, mainly because I don’t like the taste of it. I don’t like cheese either but I’m OK with yogurt. I don’t like the idea of taking supplements, but I don’t think I could eat enough yogurt to meet the daily requirement.  Are supplements as bad as I’m making them out to be or is there a way to eat/drink my calcium in another way?

Adults need about 1200 mg of calcium each day, and you certainly can get enough calcium without drinking milk. (I’m not a milk drinker either, for the record, although I may set records for cheese and yogurt consumption.)

You ask if supplements are as bad as you make them out to be. Well you haven’t given me the reasons you are against them, but I share a general preference to avoid supplements when I can.  I don’t recommend multivitamins, herbs or many things like that but calcium, along with vitamin D and fish oil, are exceptions that I do propose to my clients regularly.

If pills or tablets are a turn-off, consider calcium chews, such as those made by Viactiv. Often these come with Vitamin D included, which helps improve absorption of the calcium and promote development of strong bones. They come in chocolate and caramel flavors, and while you won’t mistake them for candy, they aren’t bad.

You can also choose foods fortified with calcium to meet your needs. If you drink non-dairy milk like soy milk, oat milk or almond milk, choose a brand that is fortified with calcium (usually they contain 300 mg per 8 ounce glass).

Calcium-fortified orange juice is another option, which also provides about 300 mg per cup. The upside of having calcium in OJ  is that the vitamin C improves calcium absorption. The downside is that I recommend avoiding fruit juice if you are trying to lose weight, have insulin resistance/impaired fasting glucose, or are diabetic.

Some other calcium containing foods include spinach, broccoli, sardines and salmon with bones, tofu, collards, beet greens and almonds. However, the biolavilability of calcium from these sources is variable, and even many servings of these foods a day may not be enough. The calcium in vegetables is less bioavailable that that from dairy foods, because it is partially bound by phytates.

You can maximize  calcium absorption from foods by consuming vitamin C rich foods along with them, and avoiding soft drinks containing phosphoric acid (most dark-colored  sodas). Try and spread your calcium intake into small doses throughout the day, rather than taking it all at once. You’ll absorb more of it that way.

So how does this all add up?

If you consume one yogurt a day (300 mg), plus a 500 mg calcium chew or supplement and a couple servings of leafy vegetables, you can hit 1200 mg no problem, without ever touching a glass of milk.  Strong bones ahead!

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  • Vendy January 17, 2014, 9:48 pm

    Thanks Georgie for this one, I have found out only recently that I can’t have dairy so calcium is a concern for me. One more thing to add to your list couldbe poppy seeds, apparently they have lots of calcium. Not sure how well it gets absorbed though!

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