These days, more and more people are discovering that they have food allergies. Most food allergies come from just 7 food sources: milk (lactose), eggs, nuts (mostly peanuts), fish, shellfish, soy and wheat (gluten). Lactose intolerance is a growing issue for many people.

For some, completely cutting out dairy is the only option to reduce the amount of stress on their digestive system. If you’re one of those people, you may be wondering how you can get your daily source of calcium in the absence of dairy. Luckily, there are many other foods that will give you a significant amount of calcium to make up for the lack of dairy in your diet.

Calcium is essential.

A constant level of calcium in the body is necessary to aid various functions including muscle contraction, blood vessel contraction and expansion, and sending messages through the nervous system. Simply put: calcium is needed to keep your heart working and your muscles functioning. Even with all that importance placed calcium’s role in the body, the body stores just 1% of it in places other than bones and teeth. Ideally, most of us build up calcium reserves in our bones and teeth during childhood and that reserve acts as a bank from which to draw from in our adult years. Still, adults are recommended to get at least 1000 mg of calcium daily. So, if you choose not to have dairy, what is the best way to get your daily source of calcium?

11 non-dairy food sources with a significant amount of calcium.

  • Collard greens 1 cup, boiled – 357 mg
  • Fortified soymilk 1 cup – 368 mg
  • Black-eyed peas 1 cup, boiled – 211 mg
  • Firm tofu (made with calcium sulfate) 1/2 cup – 204 mg
  • Calcium-fortified orange juice 6 oz – 200 mg
  • Blackstrap molasses 1 Tbsp – 172 mg
  • Baked beans 1 cup, canned – 154 mg
  • Kale 1 cup, cooked – 94 mg
  • Chinese cabbage 1 cup, raw – 74 mg
  • Oranges 1 cup – 72 mg
  • Almonds 1 oz – 70 mg

    Simple ways to add these foods into your diet to increase your calcium intake.

    • Stir-fry vegetables and add diced tofu made with calcium sulfate.
    • Add calcium-rich greens like collards and kale to casseroles, soups, stews and pasta dishes.
    • Use calcium-fortified non-dairy milk (like soy or almond milk) instead of water in recipes such as mashed potatoes, pudding and oatmeal.
    • Factor in some sweetness (and calcium) with blackstrap molasses into your oatmeal, grits or other morning meal.
    • Use almond butter instead of peanut butter to add more calcium.
    • Beans, a calcium super food, can be added to soups, pasta sauces, salads and burritos.
    • Enjoy canned baked beans, which are usually fortified with calcium, as a side dish, or mix them into your favorite recipes.

    If you are still not meeting your daily required calcium needs in the food that you eat, you may want to consider taking a calcium supplements. When picking a supplement that is right for you, remember to:

    • Compare the brands by the amount of elemental calcium they contain, which should be clearly listed on the label.
    • Choose a brand you trust. Although generic brands may be cheaper, they might be a lower quality and might not be absorbed as well.
    • Look for the “USP” label, which indicates that the supplement has met the standards of the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) for quality, purity and tablet disintegration or dissolution.
    • Do not use calcium supplements made with unrefined oyster shell, bone meal or dolomite as they may also contain toxic substances.

    There are more tips outside of eating right and taking supplements that will help you reach your daily calcium intake goal.

    Reduce sodium in your diet. Elevated levels of sodium in the blood can cause your body to compensate by pulling more calcium from your bones to maintain balance. The less amount of calcium in your bones, the more likely you are to be deficient.

    Eat your veggies. Yep. No matter what you cannot get away form eating more vegetables. Beside their rich calcium content, many vegetables and fruits are good sources of potassium; which may help decrease calcium excretion in people who eat high sodium diets (which is especially good for postmenopausal women).

    Exercise. Yep again. You can’t get away from exercise. Weight bearing exercises like walking, running, hiking and boot camp workouts can put stress on your bones. That is a good thing because that act will cause your body to respond by making your bones stronger.

    Load up on Vitamin D. Vitamin D is important because it helps improve calcium absorption. Luckily for us in San Diego, sunlight is a great source of Vitamin D (just remember sunscreen). Of course, food is another source as well. Cod liver oil, salmon, mackerel, tuna, and fortified breakfast cereals provide Vitamin D effectively. And ten to fifteen minutes of sun exposure is all you need to get almost a day’s worth of this vitamin as well.

    Don’t let your need to avoid dairy cause a calcium deficiency. Use these recommended calcium-loaded foods to keep your bones strong, your heart working and you muscles functioning.