Health and Nutrition

Best Sources of Non-dairy Calcium

Gregg Carroll - Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Recent research has underscored the negative effects of consuming animal products in human health. This also includes milk and dairy products which are a dietary staple in the Western diet. For nearly a decade we have been led to believe milk and dairy products are the richest source of calcium available. The credit for this goes to the National Dairy Council which has worked for many years to lay this strong foundation through sponsored research and false claims. Modern science has shown that this information is outdated, misleading, and has proven that dairy products do more harm than good.

Studies show that calcium from milk is not well absorbed or used by the body. Furthermore, milk and milk products are high in oxidized cholesterol, high in protein, hormones and antibiotics. When it comes to choosing calcium from natural food sources, the choices are plentiful, and come with the added benefits of better immune function and protection from degenerative diseases. Plant sources are the best sources of calcium which our bodies can absorb and utilize completely without having to deal with the presence of growth hormones, antibiotics, and high cholesterol. The good news about plant-based calcium is that there are a variety of ways one can include dietary calcium from non-dairy sources that are tasty and easy to incorporate. Here are some of nature's best sources of calcium that the human body can absorb and effectively utilize.


Seeds

Chia seeds: Chia seeds were a component of the diet of ancient civilizations – Aztecs and Mayans. They are one of nature's richest sources of calcium. The best part is that they are rich in essential fats – omega-3 and omega-6 as well. Chia seeds can be easily incorporated to our everyday meals, such as oatmeal, cereals, salsa, dips, and smoothies.

Sesame seeds: Sesame seeds are the oldest known condiment. Sesame seeds are used in a variety of Asian dishes and add a characteristic nutty flavor. Besides being a good source of calcium they are also abundant in copper, magnesium, manganese, and zinc that are useful in bone-building, as well as iron and vitamin B1. An ounce of hulled sesame seeds provides 15 mg of calcium, the un-hulled variety (black) provide 265 mg. Tahini butter (2 tablespoon) provides 128 mg.


Nuts

Almonds: Almonds are not only rich in calcium, but they are a powerhouse of antioxidants. Additional benefits include the lowering of high blood cholesterol and promoting heart health.



Walnuts: Calcium in walnuts occurs in combination with several phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Walnuts are also called 'brain foods,' as calcium and the essential fat (omega-3) are also present. These two nutrients are vital for maintaining cognitive as well as nerve health.


Dark Greens

All dark green vegetables and leaves are remarkably high in calcium content. Examples include broccoli, kale, bok choy, and spinach. They are plentiful in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients which pack added health advantages with fewer calories.

Below are a collection of calcium-rich plant foods that can help you create a menu plan rich in calcium. Try to consume at least three calcium-rich foods a day while enjoying variety in your diet.


Food Portion Calcium (mg)
Beans
Garbanzo beans (chick peas)
Edamame beans (soy)
Tofu

1 cup
1 cup
1 slice (84 g)

80.4 mg
97.6 mg
26.9 mg
Nut Butters
Almond butter
Tahini
Cashew Butter
Sunflower seed butter

2 Tbsp.
2 Tbsp.
2 Tbsp.
2 Tbsp.

111 mg
128 mg
13.8 mg
39.0 mg
Whole Nuts
Almonds
Cashews
Walnuts
Macadamia
Pecan

1 oz (28 g)
1 oz.
1 oz.
1 oz.
1 oz.

73.9 mg
10.4 mg
27.4 mg
23.8 mg
19.6 mg
Dark Greens
Bokchoy
Spinach
Bean sprouts
Collards
Mustard greens
Turnip greens

1 cup
1 cup
1 cup
1 cup
1 cup
1 cup

330 mg
250 mg
320 mg
260 mg
450 mg
450 mg
Dried Fruits
Dried apricots
Dried figs

3 oz.
3 oz.

80 mg
100 mg
Raw Kale 1 cup 90.5 mg


The "Calcium Paradox"

The National Institute of Health (NIH) recommends that adult males consume 1000 mg of calcium per day and woemn 1200 mg of calcium per day. It should be noted that these recommendations are based on calcium availability from a Standard American Diet (SAD) that consists of meat, meat products, refined grains and sugar. The dietary availability of calcium from a western diet is questionable, and hence the need for high calcium intake.

On the other hand, many epidemiological studies, including the famous China Study, reports that the calcium intake of populations that consume largely a plant-based diets is relatively low when compared to Western populations. The study stated that the average calcium consumption among the Chinese population was 544 mg per day as opposed to the average consumption of 1143 mg per day by the U.S. population. Although calcium is important for bone health, these studies indicate that we may not need high quantities of dietary calcium for optimal bone health. The evidence is strengthened by the relative absence of osteoporosis and other bone diseases among the Chinese population considering of the amount of calcium they consume per day.

Another important point is that the source of calcium plays a critical role in influencing the absorption and utilization of this nutrient. WHO calls this the "calcium paradox," and states that to date, the accumulated data indicates that the adverse effect of protein, specifically animal protein, not vegetable, might outweigh the positive effects of calcium intake on calcium balance. The report of the joint FAO/WHO consultation on vitamin and mineral requirements makes it clear that the requirements for calcium might vary from culture to culture for dietary, genetic, lifestyle and geographical reasons.

Currently there is little research available on the bone health of vegans, and until more evidence emerges, many health experts recommend it is best to adhere to the current recommended intakes for calcium. While looking for calcium specific foods, non-dairy sources are the most healthy and effective way to achieve a positive calcium balance and excellent bone health.


Here is a sample menu that provides a total of 1654.9 mg of calcium per day.

Breakfast — 111 milligrams of calcium

Toasted whole grain bread with 2 tablespoon of almond butter

Mid-morning snack — 770 milligrams of calcium

LRF Dried figs – 5 each 770 mg

Lunch — 426.15 milligrams of calcium

Tempeh with brown rice with tahini sauce

½ cup brown rice 31.35 mg

½ cup tempeh 107.6 mg

¼ cup Tahini sauce 256 mg

½ cup broccoli (steamed) 31.2 mg

Snack — 175 milligrams of calcium

A cup of Edamame (soy beans) cooked

Dinner — 172.75 milligrams of calcium

Spinach - Lentil soup

¼ cup dry lentils 4.75 mg

Half of spinach bunch 168 mg


Tips To Improve Absorption and
Utilization of Dietary Calcium

Exercise: At least 30-40 minutes of brisk walking helps to build bone with calcium.

Sensible sun exposure: Vitamin D is vital for calcium absorption and use in the body. Just 15 minutes of sunlight exposure* (without sunblock) is enough for the body to make its own vitamin D.

Eat fresh: Consume freshly prepared meals whenever possible, choosing raw foods such as salads, mixed nuts for snacks.

Variety: Choose to eat a variety of foods that provide you with a mix of minerals and vitamins that aid in calcium absorption and utilization in the body.

*Please note that if you are going to be outdoors longer than 15 minutes, it is advised to use a sunblock to prevent skin cancer.

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