Michelle Davies, Nutrition Intern
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body responsible and is for so many things! Not only does it act as the building block of bones and teeth, but it is also vital for muscle contraction, hormone release, the nervous system, and heart rate regulation. If your diet is lacking in this mineral, then your body will resort to taking calcium from the bones, which overtime will weaken them and could potentially lead to bone fractures and osteoporosis. With age it becomes much more difficult for our bodies to absorb calcium from food, which is exactly why calcium-rich foods need to be a mainstay in our diets.
So what are the best sources of calcium we can eat? We all grew up hearing “drink milk for strong bones!” – but what if you develop lactose-intolerance, or you choose to avoid dairy for other health reasons? Fortunately, there are a ton of great calcium-rich, non-dairy options. Plant-based sources of calcium include leafy green vegetables, nuts, beans, and fortified non-dairy milks. Leafy green veggies are a great alternative to dairy not only because they contain so much calcium, but also because they are so rich in other important vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants – all crucial for good health.
When choosing which leafy green vegetables to eat for calcium, one needs to take their oxalate count into consideration. Oxalates are compounds that bind with calcium, inhibiting its absorption in the body. Beet greens, Swiss chard, spinach, and rhubarb may all have high calcium content, but they are also high in oxalates. These types of greens should not be relied upon when it comes to choosing good sources of easily-absorbed calcium.
The current Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of calcium for most adults is 1,000-1,300 mg per day. Here are some top plant-based sources of calcium – milligrams of calcium given reflect one cup serving:
- Collard greens (267 mg)
- Turnip greens (197 mg)
- Mustard greens (165 mg)
- Bok Choy (158 mg)
- Arugula (125 mg)
- Kale (93 mg)
- Cabbage (63 mg)
- Broccoli (62 mg)
In addition to consuming plenty of these vegetables, there are other factors involved in maintaining adequate calcium levels:
- A diet too high in animal protein, sodium, caffeine, and alcohol, as well as smoking, should be avoided as they can increase the loss of calcium from the body.
- Weight-bearing exercise is crucial for maintaining bone health – think squats and dead lifts.
- A little bit of sunshine goes a long way to helping the body produce Vitamin D, which promotes calcium absorption. Supplementation of the critical vitamin is recommended for most, as deficiency is very common.