Think you can only get calcium from milk? Think again!

By Lizzie Streit, MS, RDN, LD 

Calcium is an incredibly important nutrient that plays a role in bone formation, blood clotting, muscle contraction, and nerve transmission, among several other functions. Not getting enough calcium can increase the risk of osteoporosis and may even be linked to heart disease and other chronic illnesses.  

Fortunately, several foods are rich in calcium and can help you meet your calcium needs. Most people know that dairy products are rich in calcium. However, calcium is also found in plants and non-dairy foods.  

If you do not like dairy, cannot tolerate cow’s milk, or are looking for different ways to get more calcium, read on to learn about the top plant-based sources of calcium.  

Daily Calcium Requirements 

Since calcium is necessary for several vital functions in the body, daily intake recommendations for calcium are 1200 mg per day for women and 1000 mg per day for men.  

Certain populations may need more calcium or be at risk for deficiency. These include women going through menopause; individuals with Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, or issues that prevent calcium absorption; vegans and vegetarians; and athletes. 

It’s also important to keep in mind that excessive caffeine, sodium, and alcohol intake can increase the excretion of calcium from the body. This may result in calcium deficiency or weakened bones.   

Top Plant-Based Sources of Calcium 

Milk and dairy products are an excellent source of calcium, but several plant foods also provide high amounts of the mineral. For reference, one cup of milk contains about 300 mg of calcium.  

Below are some of the best plant-based sources of calcium:  

  • 1 cup of kale, raw: 101 mg 

  • 1 cup edamame: 98 mg 

  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds: 88 mg 

  • 1 tbsp chia seeds: 80 mg 

  • 1 cup of collard greens, raw: 84 mg 

  • 1 medium artichoke: 56 mg 

  • ¼ cup almonds: 61 mg 

  • ½ cup figs: 34 mg 

On first glance, it may appear that plant foods have substantially less calcium than dairy. But keep in mind the typical portion sizes of these foods. For example, a kale salad might provide 3 or 4 cups of chopped raw kale and therefore over 300 mg of calcium.  

Even more, two tablespoons of chia seeds, a typical amount added to smoothies or oatmeal, provides more than half of the calcium in a glass of milk. As you can see, plant-based calcium can add up if you eat a diet with a variety of plant foods. Plus, eating whole plant foods also provides fiber and beneficial compounds that can act as antioxidants and fight disease.  

If you are interested in increasing the amount of plant-based calcium in your diet, try making salads with leafy greens, topped with almonds or chia seeds. You can also add greens to smoothies or snack on edamame and fresh figs.  

Note from Healthy For Life Meals: Our meals are loaded with plant-based calcium sources, as well as low-fat dairy products to help you meet your calcium needs. Get started with one our menus today to enjoy a variety of nutritious foods! 

Stef Keegan