How to Get Enough Calcium—Without Dairy

Calcium is an essential nutrient and there are many foods to meet your daily needs

Calcium could in fairness be called the king of minerals. It is the most abundant mineral in the human body and plays a crucial role in the formation and maintenance of bones and teeth, as well as in muscle contraction, blood clotting, and nerve signal transmission. The vast majority of the body’s calcium — 98 percent according to the National Institutes of Health — is stored in the bones.

It’s well-recognized among experts that getting enough calcium is important, but that’s where the agreement ends. How much calcium is needed for optimal health, and what food sources are best for it, remains a hotly debated topic.

Calcium requirements vary greatly depending on age and gender. During periods of rapid growth – such as adolescence and pregnancy – needs are greater than during periods of “maintenance”. In addition, postmenopausal women have an increased need for calcium as they experience accelerated bone loss due to falling estrogen levels.

stage of life


Recommended daily amount


Children 1-3 years 700mg
Children 4-8 years 1000mg
Children and young people 9-18 years 1300mg
Adults 19-50 years 1000mg
Adult males 51-70 years 1000mg
Adult females 51-70 years 1200mg
Pregnant and lactating teenagers 1300mg
Pregnant and lactating adults 1000mg
Source: Institute of Medicine

We’ve been told for decades that calcium is essential and that dairy is the best source of calcium, so it’s a short jump to the conclusion that if we’re around weak-boned and relapsing, we should all be getting plenty of milk, yogurt, and cheese to avoid cavities.

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But what about those allergic to milk? Cow’s milk is the most common food allergen in infants and young children, affecting about 2.5 percent, according to the nonprofit organization FARE, or Food Allergy Research and Education. While many eventually outgrow their milk allergy, some don’t and carry it into adulthood.

Add to that those suffering from lactose intolerance, which recent research shows affects about two-thirds of the world’s population, and those following a vegan diet, and there’s a sizeable proportion of the population who avoid it, either out of necessity or voluntarily dairy products and must meet their calcium needs from other sources.

As worrying as it may be to deviate from “Got Milk?” campaign, rest assured that it is entirely possible to get enough calcium without consuming dairy products. There are a variety of calcium-rich plant foods and calcium-fortified foods and beverages to choose from, and supplements are also an option if needed. Considering that an 8-ounce glass of cow’s milk contains an average of 300 milligrams (mg) of calcium, compare these non-dairy options.

almonds: Almonds top the list of calcium-rich nuts. 100 grams (g) of almonds, which is a substantial serving at around 100 nuts, provides 273 mg of calcium along with healthy fats, iron, protein, and fiber.

Canned salmon and sardines: When canned, with their soft, edible bones, these fish options provide an impressive amount of calcium. A 92g can of sardines contains 351mg of calcium, while an 85g can of salmon contains 241mg, according to the USDA’s FoodData Central.

Kale and Kale: Several leafy greens are high in calcium, but some — like spinach — contain significant amounts of an antinutrient called oxalate, which interferes with calcium absorption. Kale and collard greens are both low in oxalates and high in calcium, providing 177 mg and 268 mg per cup, respectively.

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White beans: Kidney beans are among the richest in calcium among beans and legumes. A total of 100 g of dried small white beans contain 236 mg of calcium. Other types of beans and lentils contain less calcium but are still rich in fiber, protein and a variety of micronutrients.

molasses: The calcium content of molasses varies significantly by species, but along with significant amounts of iron, potassium, and magnesium, the amounts are notable. A tablespoon of molasses contains 41 mg of calcium. Blackstrap molasses, which is more concentrated and nutritious than regular molasses, contains much more at 100 mg per tablespoon, which is 10 percent of the USDA’s recommended daily value for adults.

winter squash: A cup of cooked butternut squash contains 84 mg of calcium, while the same amount of acorn squash contains even more at 90 mg. Both varieties, along with other orange varieties, are also loaded with vitamins A and C and gut-supporting fiber.

Tofu with Calcium Set: Tofu is made from three basic ingredients: soybeans, water, and a coagulant such as magnesium chloride or calcium sulfate. When calcium sulfate is used as a coagulant, the calcium content of tofu is very high—up to 683 mg per 100 g for raw, firm tofu, while firm tofu with other coagulants can contain between 100 mg and 200 mg of calcium per 100 g of tofu. Check the nutrition label to see the calcium content of tofu brands in your area.

seed: Poppy, sesame, and chia seeds all contain impressive amounts of calcium. Just one tablespoon of poppy seeds contains 127 mg of calcium — more than 12 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for most adults — while sesame and chia seeds both contain about 9 percent of the RDA.

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Fortified Orange Juice: While eating a whole orange gives you about 65 mg of calcium, a cup of calcium-fortified orange juice provides a whopping 349 g – more than a third of the recommended daily allowance.

Plant-based milk substitute: Soy, almond, rice, and oat milks are often fortified with calcium, making them comparable to cow’s milk. A cup of soy milk contains 300 mg of calcium, which is equivalent to a cup of cow’s milk. Rice and oat milk are fortified to similar levels, and a cup of unsweetened almond milk has even more calcium at 449 mg per cup.

Getting enough calcium is important at any age, but those who avoid dairy don’t need to worry about not getting enough. The conscious inclusion of plenty of calcium-rich non-dairy foods as a regular part of the diet makes it easy to get enough of this essential mineral.

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