Q&A: Calcium minus the milk

Q:  Hey Kim! Can you give your advice on good sources of calcium? I can’t eat any dairy due to breastfeeding a baby with milk protein allergy. Would love advice on what foods to eat (that taste normal, like NO KALE!!!) that will help the two of us get our calcium.

A:  Thanks for the question!  I had to decrease my dairy intake during breastfeeding, so I understand a little of what this reader is going through.

First off, we all know calcium is important for building and maintaining our bones and teeth.  However, calcium is also necessary for muscles to contract, including our heart.  Calcium also helps nerves to signal and blood to clot.

Here is a table showing how much we need each day:

Age Amount
0–6 months 200 mg
7–12 months 260 mg
1–3 years 700 mg
4–8 years 1,000 mg
9–13 years 1,300 mg
14–18 years 1,300 mg
19–50 years 1,000 mg
51–70 years 1,000 mg  males/
1,200 mg females
71+ years 1,200 mg

Source: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/#en2

Here are some foods and the amount of calcium they provide.  I’m including milk as a reference.

Food      Milligrams (mg) per serving
Nonfat Milk, 1 cup 299
Calcium-fortified soy milk, 1 cup 299
Calcium-fortified orange juice, 3/4 cup 261
Firm tofu, made with calcium sulfate, ½ cup 253
Soft tofu, made with calcium sulfate, ½ cup 138
Cereal, calcium-fortified, 1 cup 100-1,000
Kale, fresh, 1 cup 100
Turnip greens, boiled, ½ cup 99
Bok choi, raw, 1 cup 74
White bread, 1 slice 73
Flour tortilla, 6″ diameter 32
Whole wheat bread, 1 slice 30

Edited from: http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/#en2

As you can see, fortified beverages like juice or soy milk are the highest.  Almond and rice milk aren’t on this list but are generally fortified as well.   I don’t know if tofu fits in the “taste normal” category, but it can often add a creamy or “cheesy” texture to casseroles, soups, or smoothies without you tasting it.  The range for cereal listed above is wide; it just depends on the individual cereal.  All leafy greens have a fair amount of calcium, although the calcium in spinach is not absorbed well.  If you don’t like kale, try a different leafy green.  My favorite is mustard greens.

If you are having a hard time eating enough, you can add a supplement.  The two kinds generally available are calcium carbonate and calcium citrate.  Calcium carbonate is generally cheaper, but you should take it with a meal.  It requires stomach acid to be absorbed, so more will be absorbed if taken with food.  Calcium citrate is a bit more expensive, but can be taken any time.

General tips for calcium supplements: don’t take a calcium supplement at the same time as an iron supplement, as they will block each other from being absorbed.  No matter the kind, calcium is best absorbed in amounts of 500 mg or less.  Also, make sure you are getting enough vitamin D to help with the absorption.  And don’t take too much — the most you should get in a day from food AND supplements is 2500 mg.

Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!

3 thoughts on “Q&A: Calcium minus the milk”

  1. This is awesome, thanks! I didn’t know the difference between the two different types of calcium supplements. Also, I have been eating spinach like crazy and didn’t know about the absorption issue. I’ll have to try mustard greens. Great advice, thanks again!

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