It is a rather significant fallacy to think that you can only get calcium from drinking milk. In fact, most people don’t absorb that much calcium from milk. For dietary calcium to be really usable, it needs to be combined with Vitamin D, hence why a lot of milk is fortified with Vitamin D.
For those, like me, who don’t drink milk, and may consumed nearly no dairy products at all, there are still plenty of options to get adequate calcium in our diets.
Where can you get calcium if you don’t eat dairy?
For non-dairy, non-fortified (ie additives) the following foods in their whole unadulterated state offer your best sources of naturally-occurring calcium.
- Seafood: Sardines, Salmon
- Vegetables: Turnip Greens, Kale, Chinese Cabbage, Broccoli
- Legumes: Black-eyed peas, baked beans, green peas
Many foods such as cereals, orange juice, and soy are calcium-fortified, though the quality and utilization capacity of these additives is somewhat debatable.
- Antacids (but definitely not the best choice because it reduces stomach acid which will lead to poor absorption of nutrients, including calcium)
- Natural Calm Magnesium + Calcium
- High quality multivitamin
- VIACTIV Calcium Soft Chews with Vit D and Vit K.
- Other high quality calcium supplements
Where can you get Vitamin D if you don’t drink milk?
As mentioned above, Vit D is key to the utilization of ingested calcium. Vit D is also really important for a lot of other functions, too.
Very few foods are naturally high in Vitamin D. These are the best of them:
- Seafood: Cod Liver Oil, Swordfish, Salmon, Tuna, Sardines
- Beef Liver
- Egg Yolk
Many foods containing Vit D, such as milk or orange just, are Vit-D fortified, meaning the Vit-D is added during production.
Sun exposure is really the best way to get Vit-D: spend 5-30 minutes outside (depending on pollution, skin area exposed, cloud cover, and latitude) at least twice a week. Vit D cannot be synthesized from sun exposure with SPF exceeding 8.
If you live in a heavily polluted place (Beijing) or in the winter when its dark, another good option is tanning beds with 2%–6% UVB radiation, which have been found effective in supplementing Vit-D production. (NIH.org)
Both Vit-D2 and Vit-D3 supplements are available on the market, though D3 is widely regarded as the more effective one.
A word of caution
Before you get too worked up over supplementing with calcium or chowing down on a lot of sardines, consider having a mineral test to determine your calcium levels and your ration of calcium to other minerals such as magnesium and potassium.
I recently had a hair mineral test and found my calcium was pretty high and my Ca:Magnesium and Ca:Potassium ratios were extremely high, suggesting that before I consider increasing calcium intake, I need to focus on magnesium and potassium intake.
To further drive this point home, I don’t consume much dairy except for occasional cheese, and I don’t eat seafood, molasses, or legumes so its almost perplexing how I have such high levels of calcium.
Therefore, my recommendation before seeking a calcium fortification is to make sure you actually need that specific mineral before you go out and buy a supplement. Dietary sources or a broad multivitamin are probably sufficient for most people. You’re more likely to be low in magnesium or selenium than calcium, but that’s a post for a different day…