We are all familiar with the age old advice that dairy is crucial for bone health and that without it we are at risk for osteoporosis or loss of bone density. Due to this people often struggle with the concept of cutting out dairy for health reasons and are often very reluctant to do so.
Many people do very well consuming dairy without experiencing signs of intolerance or inflammation as a result of consuming good quality dairy products such as raw or organic dairy or milk kefir. But there are many for whom dairy is a no go area and ensuring that they have an adequate calcium intake is a constant concern.
In recent years it has become standard practice for doctors to recommend a calcium supplement to older patients… A recent study however pointed to an increased risk for myocardial infarction (heart attacks) amongst this group when taking a calcium supplement…
I often get asked “Should I take a calcium Supplement?”. In general I would recommend against taking an isolated calcium supplement. In recent years it has become standard practice for doctors to recommend a calcium supplement to older patients, in particular post-menopausal ladies (this is because oestrogen has a protective effect on bone health but oestrogen levels decline at menopause). A recent study however pointed to an increased risk for myocardial infarction (heart attacks) amongst this group when taking a calcium supplement citing that “Calcium supplementation in healthy postmenopausal women is associated with upward trends in cardiovascular event rates. This potentially detrimental effect should be balanced against the likely benefits of calcium on bone” (Boland et al, 2008).1
The great news is that there are plenty of other sources of calcium available in the diet and while it does require a conscious effort to consume adequate amounts of these foods it is not any more an effort than ensuring you follow your doctors orders of “Eating more dairy.”.
Here are my Top 5 Non-Dairy Sources of Calcium:
You will by now realise that bone broth is one of my ultimate favourite superfoods. In fact I have a whole post dedicated to bone broth here.
Bone broth is a rich source of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and silicon all of which are extremely important for bone health and strength. Remember, while calcium IS very important for bone health it works synergistically with other nutrients to promote strong bones. Bone broth supplies these nutrients making it a fantastic source of bone health promoting properties. It also has the added benefit of having chondroitin and glucosamine which are wonderful additions for joint care. Making bone broth a regular part of your diet and consuming it as a healthful drink or in soups and stews is a wonderful way to boost your bone health promoting nutrients and much cheaper than any supplement!
2. Tinned Salmon
We all know that wild salmon is extremely difficult to source at the best of times. Why not add in some tinned wild salmon into your diet and reap not just the healthy fats but also the bone health promoting properties?! Mash the cooked tinned salmon together with some lemon juice or homemade mayonnaise including those little bones. Before you go all squeamish on me consider this – the bones have softened greatly due to the canning process itself but are still packed full of calcium – I promise you will not even taste them.
Try something like a salmon fish cake to boost intake.
Keeping with the fishy theme these super small fish are a fantastic source of dietary calcium. Also a great option if you are concerned about fish pollution as the smaller size of the fish gives them less opportunity to retain toxins (unlike say conventional salmon or tuna). Just 7 tiny fillets contributes 32% of an average woman’s Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of calcium. So add these oily fillets to salads or sauces and get a boost of both healthful oils and calcium.
Leafy greens like kale and pak choi are also great sources of calcium and have the added benefit of containing vitamin K and magnesium which are also important to work alongside calcium. Two cups of raw kale provides 19% of your RDI of calcium and is also a rich source of antioxidants and fibre. If you have thyroid issues or a history of kidney stones it is probably best not to eat raw greens every day.
5. Almonds and Almond Butter
Almonds are a rich source of healthy fats as well as vitamin E and potassium. They are also a surprising source of calcium. Sprinkle nuts on your salad or coconut yoghurt for added crunch, grab a handful of nuts to eat alongside your fruit snack, or have some almond butter on your apple. Delicious AND nutritious!
Fortified Calcium Sources
With more and more people moving away from dairy for ethical, health, or intolerance related reasons fortified foods with added calcium added are becoming more and more popular. With foods such as orange juice and dairy free milks moving towards fortification are these foods a good option if you are avoiding calcium? In my opinion no. Fortified versions of food tend to be more processed and calorific. Nutrient dense foods are always the best source of these vitamins and minerals and if the situation arose wherein we had to choose a glass of calcium fortified orange juice over a cup of broccoli I know which one I would be recommending. Choose wholefood sources of nutrients and make a conscious effort to include these non-dairy food sources of calcium every day. And don’t forget to include the other bone health nutrients such as vitamin D, magnesium, phosphorous, vitamin K, and silica.
Exercise and Bone Health
Just a quick note on exercise and bone health. We often hear of people worrying about their bone health but who live very sedentary lifestyles. Exercise is crucial for bone health. Weight bearing exercises like walking, swimming, and yoga play a useful role in bone maintenance and strength and should not be overlooked. Get your nutrition right but include exercise as part of your plan too for optimal protection and results.
- Boland, M.J., et al. (2008). Vascular events in healthy older women receiving calcium supplementation: randomised controlled trial. In The British Medical Journal BMJ 2008;336:262. Retrieved from: http://www.bmj.com/content/336/7638/262.short