Thanks to the overzealous marketing from the dairy industry, we’ve been conditioned to think that the only sources of quality calcium, comes from cows milk in the form of butter, cheese, yoghurt and milk. It’s true that we need calcium for bone and tooth health but also for muscle development, healthy blood pressure and healthy skin.
However many suggest that calcium from dairy (cows milk) is not the most easily absorbed and can be quite inflammatory on the body. Cows milk protein is also the number 1 allergen amongst children and it’s suggested that 6 out 10 people have some form of reaction to it. It makes you wonder then if there really is a biological need for us to consume dairy in such high doses or even at all?
Turns out there are many other sources that are just as high (or higher) in absorbable calcium than dairy products (and without the negative side effects). Not only that, for our bodies to absorb calcium we need good levels of vitamin D and magnesium. The body uses magnesium to convert vitamin D into its active form so that it can be used in calcium absorption. And that’s not done so well with dairy.
Better options come from natural food sources of calcium (like fatty fish with bones in) are good sources of Vitamin D which makes the calcium in these foods more absorbable. So non-dairy food sources of calcium can often be healthier as they’re also sources of other vitamins and minerals which allow the body to absorb calcium more effectively and put it to good use.
CALCIUM FOOD SOURCES
While dairy is the most common food source of calcium, it’s by no means the only food source or even the healthiest. There are many nutritious and dairy-free foods that are an excellent source of calcium. Here are some great options that are budget friendly and with these tips really easy to add in the diet for you and your children:
Bone broth is an excellent source of calcium and our immune systems love it (double whammy!). A stack of minerals get leached from the bones, and these minerals include calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and other trace minerals, all really easily absorbed. Great news is if you’ve never cooked it, is that its so easy to make at home. Literally you just need two ingredients: 1) filtered water and 2) leftover chicken bones. Boil them up for anywhere between 8 – 24 hours in a large simmering pot or slow cooker and you’re sorted. Check out the recipe here for Chicken Bone Broth. Use this broth daily in stews, casseroles, spaghetti bolognaise, gravy, sautéing vegetables and as an absorption liquid for rice and quinoa. Basically wherever water is required in a savoury dish use broth…its healthier and makes dishes so much tastier. Make a large batch and store in small containers in the fridge and freezer.
Fish with Bones
Fish with bones are an excellent source of calcium. An easy and inexpensive way to consume fish with bones is in the form of canned fish like salmon (with bones) and sardines (with bones). The bones become soft during the canning process so they can be easily chewed and consumed with the fish. Since these foods are also a good source of Vitamin D, they enhance digestion of the calcium and make it more usable. I get my boys to eat sardines by grilling them in a bit of olive oil so they become a bit crunchy and they taste great with eggs or as a spread on sourdough toast with avocado. Also use wild tinned salmon in homemade fish burgers.
Dark Leafy Greens
Dark leafy greens are another great dietary source of calcium, though some are better than others. Collard Greens, Turnip Greens, Bok Choy, Kale and Broccoli all ranked really well for being absorbable sources of calcium while spinach and seaweed ranked low on the list. Dark leafy greens are also great sources of folate, Vitamins A, C, E and K and B-vitamins. My boys will have dark leafy greens in morning smoothies and bok choy in stir fry’s. I also sneak these dark green leaves in my spaghetti bolognaise sauce and blitz them along with a ton of other vegetables.
Sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and chia seeds are all good sources of calcium. In addition to their calcium content, these tiny seeds are also a good source of antioxidant-rich vitamin E and copper—a nutrient that supports white blood cell health. Enjoy on top of porridge, in homemade muesli bars (here’s an amazingly easy recipe), in smoothies and on top of salads and as snacks.
This is a surprising one, but dried figs is up there in its calcium content and is an excellent source of dietary calcium. They’re available year-round, and make great additions to baking, trail mixes, and plain snacks! When I found this out I replaced my children’s raisons with chopped up figs. Don’t go over board…these are still very high in sugar but a great and generally fuss-free option to add calcium in the diet.
Other sources of calcium are oysters, seafood, broccoli, oranges, sweet potato and pumpkin, blackstrap molasses, almonds, tofu and edamame and seaweed. Check out the recipes on this website for inspiration. All the recipes are dairy free.
So the long and the short of it is this – calcium from dairy is actually not as bioavailable to our bodies as in some other food sources. And by choosing alternatives you may also be increasing your intake of other valuable vitamins and minerals.