There has been a lot of controversy in the media regarding the risks involved with incorporating dairy foods into your diet. There are many misconceptions regarding such statements because dairy foods can play a critical role in your overall health and well-being.
However, for those of you who are unable to properly digest dairy due to lactose intolerance, dairy allergies, or for personal reasons, you are likely missing out on key nutrients that calcium provides.
Calcium Does a Body Good!
Calcium is an essential nutrient that plays an important physiological role in the body. It is associated with the contraction of muscles, the dilation of blood vessels, the secretion of hormones, and nerve signalling. Most people often associate calcium with bone health and the prevention of diseases, such as osteoporosis. This is because 99% of calcium is stored in the bones and teeth.
In order for you to be able to maintain strong bones and prevent fractures, your body must maintain a homeostasis state. In other words, your body tightly regulates the calcium levels found within your bloodstream within a narrow range. If calcium levels become too low, your body releases a hormone called parathyroid. This hormone acts on your kidneys to retain and reabsorb calcium and prevent urinary excretion of calcium. Furthermore, it stimulates production of vitamin D from the kidneys in order to maximize the absorption of dietary calcium from your intestines. If not enough calcium is present in your diet, the hormone also leads to the breakdown of your bones to release calcium into the bloodstream.
If your blood calcium levels are too high, your body releases the hormone calcitonin. Calcitonin stimulates the cells responsible for building your bones to remove the excess calcium from your bloodstream and remineralize your bones. The bone acts as a reservoir to help regulate the blood-calcium levels. However, calcium must be accompanied with weight-bearing exercises, such as brisk walking, to strengthen the bones and prevent bone loss.
How Much Calcium Should One Take?
It is essential that you consume enough calcium in your diet to prevent the breakdown of your bones. Females between the ages of 18 and 50 and males between the ages of 18 and 70 should aim for 1200 milligrams of calcium per day. Females over the age of 50 and males over the age of 70 should aim for 1000 milligrams of calcium daily.
What Foods Do I Get Calcium From?
Calcium is abundantly found in dairy foods and it is well absorbed from these sources. Dairy foods provide an abundance of essential nutrients including protein, vitamin D, phosphorus, and of course calcium. However, for those of you that need alternative sources of calcium, consider the following options:
Milk and Dairy Alternatives
1. Soy milk
When it comes to milk alternatives, your best option is soymilk. Rice and almond milks are not always fortified with the same levels of calcium, vitamin D and other important nutrients such as magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc. Furthermore, they contain minimal amounts of protein—less than two grams per cup compared to the eight grams of protein per cup of regular milk. Milk is also a complete protein, meaning that it contains all essential amino acids necessary for good health. Soymilk is the only vegetarian complete protein. It is also more readily absorbed, contains similar levels of calcium and vitamin D, and almost as much protein as milk (six grams per cup).
2. Coconut milk
For a good cooking option, consider almond milk or coconut milk. Just be careful since coconut milk is higher in fat and calories. Hemp milk is an option for those with gluten, nut, or soy allergies. It is a bit higher in protein compared to most other alternatives, and contains some omega-3 fatty acids.
3. Whole foods
Choosing whole foods over processed foods is always the ideal choice. Your body better absorbs whole foods, usually because they are combined with other compounds that may aid in absorption.
4. Leafy greens and veggies
Broccoli, bok choy, kale, mushrooms, spinach and sweet potato are other options that will allow you to obtain your calcium requirements. Sweet potatoes are a great source of potassium, while mushrooms can help increase your vitamin D intake and boost your calcium absorption. While these all seem like great alternatives for reaching your calcium requirements, your body does not efficiently absorb the nutrients as well as it does from a dairy source. For instance, you would need to consume about two and a half cups of broccoli or one and a half cups of kale, or eight cups of spinach to achieve the same amount of calcium found in one cup of milk! Therefore I recommend you cook your greens. The heat from cooking will release the oxalate compounds that bind the calcium and prevent its absorption. Cooking your greens allows more calcium to be available for absorption.
Nutrition Facts: Sources of Calcium
|Food||Serving Size||Amount of calcium per serving (mg)|
|Sardines, canned in oil, with bones||3 ounces||325|
|Soymilk, calcium-fortified||8 ounces||300|
|Orange juice, calcium-fortified||6 ounces||260|
|Tofu, firm, made with calcium sulfate||½ cup||255|
|Salmon, pink, canned, solids with bone||3 ounces||180|
|Broccoli, raw||½ cup||20|
|Broccoli cooked||½ cup||35|
|Spinach, raw||1 cup||30|
|Spinach, cooked||1 cup||260|
Calcium Rich Recipe: Cold Avocado Soup With Tomato Salsa
In keeping with some of these dairy alternatives, consider trying the following recipe. It incorporates a balance of vegetables, a dairy alternative and a healthy fat. Try adding some lentils or beans and a few crackers to have a healthy balanced meal that includes all food groups.
- 2 ripe avocados
- 1/4 of a cup of chopped green onions
- 1 1/2 cups of unsweetened soymilk
- 1/4 of a cup of creamer
- 1/2 a cup of ice water
- 1/4 of a cup of fresh lime juice
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
- 1 small jalapeño, seeded and minced
- 2 chopped fresh cilantro
- Fresh lime juice
- 1/4 of a cup of minced green onion
- 1 large tomato, diced
- 1/4 of a teaspoon of salt
1. For the soup, halve the avocados and remove the flesh with a spoon.
2. In a blender, purée the avocado, green onions, soymilk, creamer, ice water, lime juice, and salt.
3. Season to taste with black pepper and cayenne.
4. Thin with additional soymilk if desired.
5. For the salsa, mix all ingredients together in a small bowl.
6. Serve as garnish for avocado soup or with tortilla chips as an appetizer.
- Calories: 181
- Protein: 5 grams
- Carbohydrates: 14 grams
- Fat: 13 grams
- Saturated Fat: 2 grams
- Cholesterol: 0 milligrams
- Sodium: 779 milligrams
- Fiber: 6 grams
- Serves: 4.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Cooper, C.C., “Nutrients for whole-body health- Spotlight on omega-3s, vitamin D, and calcium,” Today’s Dietitian, 2009; 11(9):26.
“Calcium,” National Institutes of Health web site; https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/#h3, last accessed December 2, 2015.
Schaeffer, J., “Dairy food substitutes- The sky’s the limit,” Today’s Dietitian 2012; 14(8):38.
Silk, “Cold Avocado Soup With Tomato Salsa,” Today’s Dietitian, 2012; 14(8):38.