Renowned functional medicine expert and bestselling author Mark Hyman, MD, shared via Instagram that many foods high in calcium are actually dairy-free and still offer a plethora of other health benefits to keep you feeling your best. Discover his favorite calcium-rich foods, plus some favorites from dietitian Suzanne Pirkle, MA, RDN, CED-S, to ensure getting your daily 1,000 mg recommendation is easy-breezy and delicious—whether you follow a plant-based diet or not.
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The Benefits of Calcium
“Almost every cell in your body uses calcium in some way,” says registered dietitian Carissa Galloway, RDN, a Premier Protein nutrition consultant and personal trainer. “Not only is it essential for making strong teeth and bones—99 percent of the body’s calcium is in our teeth and bones—calcium is [also] used by our nervous system and regulates muscle contraction.” Calcium plays an important role in blood clotting and helps to prevent and treat osteoporosis, she adds.
How Much Calcium Should You Consume?
“Just like every other nutrient, the amount of calcium you need depends on several factors including age and sex,” says registered dietitian Jennifer Maeng, MS, RD. “That being said, the recommended dietary allowance for calcium is around 1,000 mg per day for the average person. However, teenagers, post-menopausal women, and adults over the age of 70 need more than that.”
To ensure that the calcium you do consume is as effective as possible, Maeng says that it's important to get enough vitamin D, too. “Vitamin D is needed to help the body absorb calcium,” she says. “Even if you are consuming enough calcium, a lack of vitamin D will not allow your body to utilize the calcium and reap the health benefits.”
The Best Calcium-Rich Foods To Keep Bones and Muscles Strong
1. Nuts and Seeds
Seeds are one of the most nutrient-dense foods out there, and they also happen to be super rich in calcium. Pirkle particularly relies on sesame, chia, sunflower, and poppy seeds to boost her intake. "Sesame seeds alone pack in an impressive 351 mg per 1/4 cup serving, which is more than one third of the daily recommendation," she says.
While you may not be enticed to consume a quarter of a cup of sesame seeds at once, you can easily spread your intake throughout the day. They make an excellent salad-topper for adding an inflammatory crunch and make a great addition to a smoothie or your favorite energy bites recipe for a pre- or post-workout boost. Plus, tahini counts towards your intake, so get to drizzling!
As for nuts, “almonds are great for snacking and a good source of those ‘better for you’ poly- and monounsaturated fats,” she says. “All nuts will provide some calcium, but almonds give you the most, with about 246 mg per cup, while also providing other minerals like magnesium.”
2. Dark Leafy Greens
Many of us grew up associating spinach with strong muscles, as Popeye was notorious for promoting the dark leafy green. While he certainly wasn't wrong, know that others in the family are just as beneficial. Take collard greens, for example. According to Dr. Hyman, collards offer a whopping 268 mg per cup, not to mention a hefty dose of vitamin B6 and sleep-promoting tryptophan. Pirkle also likes kale, turnip greens, and dandelion greens for getting a calcium boost.
Try mixing up your intake by rotating the type of dark leafy greens you purchase for salads, smoothies, and more each week to get not only an excellent source of calcium but a diverse array of vitamins and minerals. Dandelion greens, for example, are great for your liver and are a good source of potassium, while turnip greens offer a double dose of bone health-boosting benefits as they pack 153 percent of your daily vitamin K needs in a single cup.
Pizza lovers, it's your time to shine. Mozzarella in particular is an excellent source of calcium, boasting 333 mg per one-and-a-half-ounce serving, which equals a third of your daily needs. Besides making a delicious topping for Margherita pizza, mozzarella is a tasty pairing in seasonal salads featuring the freshest fruits, veggies, and herbs. Try topping your Caprese salad with a sprinkle of sesame seeds or adding a package of spinach to your favorite pasta bake to up your calcium intake even further. And feel free to shave a bit of Parmesan onto your salad. "One ounce of Parmesan contains about 314 mg of calcium,” says Maeng.
4. Canned Fish
Canned fish, particularly sardines and salmon, is another favorite among registered dietitians. Sardines not only boast one of the highest calcium counts per serving (351 mg per can, according to Dr. Hyman), they are also a top source of phosphorus and a good source of vitamin D, both of which are also essential for building strong bones, muscles, and teeth.
Canned salmon, on the other hand, features an impressive 826 mg of calcium per can, which is more than 80 percent of what you need each day. Plus, salmon is full of omega-3 fatty acids that support heart health and boost longevity. Canned seafood is a kitchen staple for whipping up an easy pantry meal in minutes, whether that’s a juicy salmon burger or sardines pasta.
5. Soy Foods
We're well-aware of the fact that tofu and other soy-containing foods serve as an excellent source of plant-based protein. However, tofu also offers 61 mg of calcium per serving—and many brands are fortified with extra calcium for an even bigger dose of the mineral. Tofu also contains iron and ALA omega-3s, which further support a healthy heart and help fight inflammation.
Another great thing about tofu is its versatility. Try it in a stir-fry or turn it into a plant-based ricotta. Blend it in a smoothie or use it as a substitute for scrambled eggs to get a calcium boost first thing in the morning. If you're into exploring other forms of soy, Pirkle adds that edamame offers about five percent of your daily needs while one cup of fortified soymilk offers 23 percent, on average.
Prefer something creamy in the morning? Try adding yogurt to your morning breakfast to up your calcium intake. This food is one of the best sources of the mineral out there, offering 415 mg per an eight-ounce serving of low-fat plain yogurt. Seek out a yogurt that is packed with probiotics to further boost your heart health—it'll taste delicious on its own or when added to a smoothie, overnight oats recipe, or paired with chopped nuts and berries for a magnesium-packed bedtime snack.
Perhaps the most obvious calcium-rich food, “one cup of cow's milk contains between 300 and 325 mg of calcium depending on the fat percentage of the milk—this is approximately 25 percent of the daily value,” says Maeng. “Goat’s milk also contains about 330 mg or 25 percent of the daily value of calcium per cup.”
Some sources of calcium are particularly affordable. “One cup of garbanzo beans offers around 244 mg of calcium,” says registered dietitian Carissa Galloway, RDN.
Can You Consume Too Much Calcium?
“Hypercalcemia is a condition that is associated with elevated calcium levels,” says registered dietitian Kim Rose, RDN. Too much calcium intake might cause excessive thirst and urination as well as nausea, vomiting, constipation, and confusion. However, it is highly uncommon to develop this condition as a result of ingesting calcium-rich foods. "There is an upper limit to calcium consumption. Typically, this happens when someone takes too much calcium from supplementation, not when they consume too much calcium in their diet,” says Galloway. “Adults should not consume more than 2,000 mg of calcium per day.”
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