If you’re looking for foods with high calcium content, it may surprise you that milk and dairy products are not the end-all-be-all when it comes to calcium intake. Whether you want more calcium for bone health or are just curious to know which foods contain some of the highest levels of calcium that aren’t milk, check out this list of food with calcium benefits—some of the entries may surprise you!
The Health Benefits of Calcium
Calcium is needed in the body to build strong bones and to maintain their health. Calcium is also necessary when it comes to heart, nerve, and muscle functioning. Studies indicate food with high calcium and vitamin D may have protective abilities in preventing cancer, high blood pressure, and diabetes, though research is still ongoing in those areas.
The Risks of Insufficient Calcium
For both children and adults, it’s harmful to be deficient in calcium. Children might not reach their full height potential when they lack the needed material to grow their bones. Insufficient calcium intake for adults can lead to low bone mass and the risk of developing osteoporosis.
Children and adults over 50 require more calcium than the rest of the populace, and many Americans are not getting enough calcium from their diets. The recommended daily intake (RDI) for most adults is 1,000 milligrams per day, while children under 18 need 1,300 milligrams a day, and adults over 50 (especially women) require 1,200 milligrams per day.
The Top 15 Foods with High Calcium Content
When it comes to food rich in calcium, milk and dairy are not the only players on the field. Just as oranges are not the highest fruit source of vitamin C, and bananas are not the top source of potassium, the foods famous for certain nutrient content are not always the strongest source of any particular vitamin or mineral.
You have more calcium in your body than you have of any other mineral, and your calcium needs each day are quite high to maintain those levels, because calcium is necessary for bone health and more. Calcium-rich foods include dairy products like cheese and milk, but also non-dairy items like seafood, dried fruit, and leafy green vegetables. So, even if you’re lactose intolerant, before relying on calcium supplements, check out these top calcium food sources.
Most of us in the modern world are not eating enough seeds. Not only do seeds like sesame, sunflower, poppy, flaxseeds, and chia seeds contain high amounts of calcium, but they also bring you healthy fats and protein.
Just 1 tablespoon of poppy seeds has 126 milligrams of calcium, 13% of the average recommended daily intake. Chia seeds and flaxseeds also provide you with a plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids. Sesame seeds include minerals like iron, copper, and manganese. Not only that, seeds are incredibly easy to include into your diet. Add a trail mix or granola bar containing seeds to your snack stash, or incorporate chia seeds into fun smoothies or overnight oatmeals.
2. Dried Figs
Dried figs can bring you potassium, vitamin K, fiber, and antioxidants. In 1 ounce of dried figs, you can get 5% of your recommended daily intake of calcium as well. Sweet and easy to snack on, figs can also be quickly included in your diet.
We’d be remiss to count out dairy products. Most cheeses are an excellent source of calcium, hard cheeses especially. Parmesan cheese comes with 33% of your RDI of calcium (331 milligrams) per ounce, while a softer cheese like brie gives you only 5% or 52 milligrams per ounce. The rest of your cheeses like cheddar fall somewhere between those two, but can also provide you with other nutrients, like protein in cottage cheese.
Dairy sources of calcium provide better calcium absorption than plant sources do, so if you can include some dairy in your diet, it’s to your benefit. Not for nothing, hard and aged cheeses are naturally lower in lactose, so even those with a lactose intolerance or a lactose sensitivity might find them easier to digest. Eating cheese daily has been found to lower the risk of metabolic syndrome, which then leads to a lowered risk for stroke, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Yogurt is another dairy-based source of calcium, and can provide the more unique benefits of probiotics if you choose a variety like Greek yogurt. With nutrients including potassium, phosphorus, and the vitamins B2 and B12, yogurt has been linked to better metabolic health when eaten regularly, and comes in a great variety of flavors and types, like low-fat yogurt, which may be higher in calcium than even regular yogurt at 45% RDI per cup (over plain yogurt’s average of 30% RDI). One of the best sources of calcium, and a good source of protein as well, yogurt is a fantastic choice when it comes to calcium-rich foods.
5. Tofu and Edamame
Particularly beneficial for those on a vegan diet, a staple food like tofu can come prepared with calcium in particularly high amounts, as in 86% of your daily intake in just half a cup. When it comes to plant-based sources of protein, edamame brings 10% of the recommended daily intake’s worth of calcium per cup.
6. Sardines and Salmon
Both sardines and canned salmon are full of calcium due to their edible bones. Less than 4 ounces of canned sardines has 35% of the RDI of calcium, and 3 ounces of canned salmon (with bones) can bring up to 21% of the RDI. Even more valuable, oily fish like these offer up omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, and high-quality lean protein. For those pescatarians out there, sardines and salmon can help prevent bone loss thanks to the edible nature of their bones—which makes sense!
7. Fortified Foods
Fortified foods like breakfast cereals can be made to deliver up to 1,000 milligrams of calcium per serving size, the full recommended daily intake for adults under 50. That’s even before adding dairy milk or fortified almond milk to the bowl, both of which bring even more calcium. The only downside is absorption: your body won’t absorb that much calcium all at once, but if you ever wanted an easy snack, what’s easier than a baggie of your favorite cereal? Keep it on hand, nibble on it throughout the day, and get a steady intake of not just calcium, but a ton of other essential nutrients as well.
Legumes like beans and lentils are full of micronutrients, protein, fiber, and calcium. For example, white beans are a good source of calcium, with 1 cooked cup providing 13% of the RDI. Along with potassium, magnesium, folate, iron, and zinc, beans are credited with the potential to lower harmful LDL cholesterol levels. Increasing the amount of beans or lentils you eat can likely benefit your overall health.
9. Certain Leafy Greens
Leafy greens like spinach, bok choy, turnip greens, collard greens, and kale offer up even more calcium. One cup of cooked collard greens, for instance, delivers 266 milligrams of calcium, a quarter of your RDI. Not only that, the vitamin K in some leafy greens is off the charts, which helps in the regulation of insulin and is essential for blood clotting.
Highest in calcium among the nuts, an ounce of almonds delivers 8% of your RDI of calcium. With healthy fats, protein, and 3 grams of fiber per ounce, almonds also come with other important nutrients like magnesium, manganese, and vitamin E. Eating nuts has been shown in scientific studies to help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of metabolic disease.
11. Whey Protein
Because whey protein is derived from milk, it’s an excellent source of calcium—about 20% of the RDI per 1-ounce scoop of whey protein powder. Often used by bodybuilders to help build muscle due to the amino acid content, whey protein has been shown to help with weight loss and improve blood sugar control.
Here’s a food you might never have expected on this list: rhubarb contains calcium along with high amounts of vitamin K and prebiotic fiber, which feeds the healthy gut bacteria or gut flora in your digestive system. With 1 cup of cooked rhubarb, you’re taking in about 87 milligrams of calcium and many other vitamins and nutrients.
What’s known as a pseudocereal, amaranth is a good source of minerals like iron, phosphorus, magnesium, and manganese. Along with a helping of folate, 1 cup of cooked amaranth grain boasts 116 milligrams of calcium, about 12% of the RDI. Amaranth leaves have even more calcium (28% of the RDI) and are high in vitamin A and vitamin C as well.
14. Fortified Beverages
Non-dairy beverages that often come fortified with calcium include almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, and orange juice. They often come with fortified protein too, making these drinks nutritionally similar to the cow’s milk available at your grocery store. To give a couple of examples, soy milk has 30% of the recommended daily intake for calcium, and orange juice with calcium can have as much as 50% of the RDI per cup.
Last but not least, good old fashioned cow’s milk for all your calcium needs. Whether whole or nonfat, milk is one of the best, most easily absorbed, and cheapest sources of calcium you can come by. If you have a lactose intolerance or lead a vegan lifestyle, you can still get calcium while avoiding milk with many of the above listed options. However, if you do drink cow’s milk or goat’s milk, you’re also getting protein, vitamin D, and vitamin A with every gulp.
A Calcium Cavalcade
There you have it: both dairy and non-dairy sources of calcium that will allow you to meet your daily calcium needs no matter what kind of diet you follow. If you’re worried about a calcium deficiency, seek medical advice before starting a calcium supplement, as an excessive amount of calcium is not beneficial to you either. Other than that, simply include an assortment of these calcium-rich foods in your diet to strengthen yourself in both body and bone.