Q. How can I get enough calcium without dairy?

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Friday, 24 May 2013.
Tagged: balanced diet, calcium, dairy, healthy eating, healthy lifestyle, milk, nutrition, nuts, supplements, vegetables

Q. How can I get enough calcium without dairy?
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Q. I can't eat any dairy products for medical reasons. I was wondering what I could include in my diet so that I get enough calcium? I'm a 15-year old girl.

A. It's hard to get enough calcium when you can't eat dairy as three key dairy foods - milk, yoghurt and cheese - are our richest source of calcium. They provide between 60 and 75 per cent of all the calcium we consume in Australia.

At 15 years, you need 1300mg of calcium a day, the highest level of intake in your whole life, reflecting your need for building strong dense bones.  Getting enough calcium is a must NOW to help your body avoid fractures and osteoporosis (brittle bones) later in life.

This 1300mg could come from 3 or 4 serves of milk, yoghurt or cheese, depending on the type. Cream and butter, however, are NOT high in calcium.

Without dairy, it's hard.

You have three choices:

1. The easiest non-dairy, high calcium food choice is a calcium-fortified soy beverage. At around 300mg of calcium in a 250ml glass, it's on a par with regular milk although not as high as some of the modified low fat types such as Shape or Pura Tone which can have as much as 400mg per glass. And nutritionists are not entirely sure how well absorbed the calcium is from soy - probably not as well as from milk - but still better than none at all OR getting calcium from other foods.

2. Moderate calcium sources include canned salmon and sardines when eaten with their soft, edible bones. Foods like almonds, sesame seeds, broccoli, spinach and dried figs provide small amounts but not enough on their own to meet that high 1300mg you need. And they aren't all that well absorbed either. See my list below.

3. If you don't like soy milk and think you won't eat enough of the moderate calcium foods, it's time to consider a calcium supplement.

There are many supplements at chemists and supermarkets. Buy one that gives you 500mg or 600mg of pure or elemental calcium together with vitamin D. Take one in the morning and one with dinner to spread your calcium intake over the day. Take them with food to improve absorption.

Your calcium choices - from Very high to High to Moderate

Very high (300 mg or more per serve)

  • 1 glass milk, regular, reduced-fat or skim
  • 1 glass soy drink, calcium-fortified,
  • 1 thick slice cheddar, Edam or Gouda cheese
  • 200g tub yoghurt, plain or fruit, low-fat or whole

High (150-300 mg per serve)

  • 1/2 carton ricotta cheese
  • 20g slice processed cheese
  • 1 small bar of milk chocolate
  • 2 scoops vanilla ice-cream
  • 100g block tofu (soy bean curd)
  • 4-5 canned sardines with bones
  • 1 small 100g can salmon with bones
  • Prawns, 6-7 medium

Moderate (50-150 mg per serve)

  • 1 tbsp tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 1 tbsp soy drink, unfortified
  • 1/2 cup spinach, boiled
  • 1/2 cup dried figs
  • 2 whole almonds, Brazils or hazel nuts,
  • 1/3 cup broccoli or cabbage, boiled


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Catherine Saxelby has the answers! She is an accredited nutritionist, blogger and award-winning author. Her award-winning book My Nutritionary will help you cut through the jargon. Do you know your MCTs from your LCTs? How about sterols from stanols? What’s the difference between glucose and dextrose? Or probiotics and prebiotics? What additive is number 330? How safe is acesulfame K? If you find yourself confused by food labels, grab your copy of Catherine Saxelby’s comprehensive guide My Nutritionary NOW!