Dairy gets a pretty bad rap these days, probably because there are all sorts of potential health benefits to a dairy-free diet. But there is one downside to cutting dairy out completely: missing out on calcium. “Calcium is a mineral that we most commonly think of in regard to bone health, but it is in fact so important for many other bodily functions like nerve impulses, blood clotting, and normal heart rhythm,” explains Megan Faletra, RD, founder of The Well Essentials.That means you need to make sure you’re getting enough of the stuff (approximately 1000 mg per day for most women) and that your body is absorbing it properly. “Research has shown that when calcium is paired with vitamin D, it tends to be better absorbed than when calcium is taken alone,” Faletra explains. That’s one of the reasons dairy is such a good calcium source, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get it elsewhere.
Milk isn’t the only source of calcium—Add these non-dairy sources of calcium to your diet to keep up with your recommended daily intake.
One-half cup of tofu provides 86% percent of your daily calcium needs, according to Mandy Enright, RDN and creator of the couples’ nutrition blog Nutrition Nuptials. Plus, it’s a great source of protein for anyone who doesn’t eat dairy because it’s vegan. “Tofu is versatile, and it can be used in a variety of recipes. It will take on the flavor of whatever you cook it in or use as a marinade,” she explains. Generally, it doesn’t matter whether you choose silken, firm, or extra-firm tofu, but check the nutrition information on whichever one you buy just to be sure. “Edamame is another great source of calcium from soy,” she adds.
“These beans are often forgotten about, but they add flavor and nutrition to many dishes,” says Megan Hovis, an RD at VIBE5 Yoga + Fitness. One cup of white beans contains 160 mg of calcium, making them a pretty decent source. “Use them in soups, on salads, and mixed into your favorite dishes,” Hovis recommends.
If you eat fish, these little guys are one of the easiest ways to get your calcium in, but you’ll need to eat the bone-in kind. “The bones are soft, and you won’t notice they are there, but this is what gives them the extra calcium boost,” notes Courtney Ferreira, RD and owner of Real Food Court. “People tend to hate the idea of sardines, but many people like them when they taste them. They aren’t dry like some canned fish can be, they are affordable, and in addition to calcium, they have anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats,” she says. One can contains between 200 and 250 mg of calcium.
Turns out, a lot of nuts and seeds are good sources of calcium. “Almonds are the highest with a quarter cup giving you 9% of your daily value, but peanuts, walnuts, hazelnuts, and pistachios also up your calcium a bit with a quarter cup of giving you about 3%,” says Philip Goglia, PhD, a nutrition expert who works with celebrities like Cara Delevingne and Khloé Kardashian.
Good for so many different things, leafy greens also help you up your calcium intake. Enright says that bok choy, kale, collard greens, and swiss chard are among the best choices here. “Most one-cup servings will provide up to 25% of your daily calcium needs,” she says. One thing to note, though, is that spinach is high in iron and is considered a high-oxalate food, which can block calcium absorption. So if you’re mainly concerned about calcium, it’s not the best choice of all the leafy greens out there.
Similar to sardines, canned salmon is also a great way to get your calcium in, plus it provides plenty of protein. “In one three-ounce can of salmon, there’s around 180 mg of calcium,” says Hovis. “Top your salads with it for great flavor and nutrition.” The same goes for the bones with this one—you’ll need to eat them in order to see the calcium benefits, but nutritionists assure us they’re NBD to eat.
“Raw celery has a high concentration of calcium in a ready-to-use form, so when you eat it, the calcium is sent directly to work,” says Goglia. While it clocks in at a lower amount of your daily value (a serving has just 4% of what you need each day), it’s packaged in a way that’s easy for your body to process. And there’s an added bonus: “This pure form of calcium will ignite your endocrine system, and the hormones in your body will break up the accumulated fat build up,” says Goglia.
These little guys are nutritional powerhouses. “In only one tablespoon of sesame seeds, you can get 8% of your RDI for calcium,” says Brooke Zigler, RD. What’s more is that they’re super easy to add to dishes you already eat. “Simply sprinkle on vegetables and meat, or add it to your salads. Sesame seeds also contain magnesium, which is important for normal nerve and muscle function, as well as regulating blood glucose levels,” she adds.