You’re probably already familiar with the main calcium contenders: milk, yogurt, and cheese. But dairy shouldn’t be the only dietary pit stop to fill up on this nutrient (whether you’re lactose intolerant or just cutting out dairy for a while).
Leafy greens, seafood, legumes, and (surprise!) even some fruits also contain calcium, and many foods and drinks are fortified with it. But before we dive into those, let’s get back to basics.
It’s no secret that calcium is vital for strong bones and teeth, but that’s just the beginning. This mineral also helps your body maintain healthy blood vessels and regulate blood pressure. Plus, it might play a role in preventing colon cancer.
Adults should consume about 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day (which translates to about one glass of skim milk, one thick slice of cheddar cheese, and 1 cup of plain yogurt).
Still, many Americans don’t meet the mark. According to the USDA, 42 percent of us aren’t taking in the Estimated Average Requirements for daily calcium.
Although it’s possible — even likely — that you may not be getting enough calcium, you might not know it at first. A calcium deficiency often has no obvious symptoms.
When symptoms do show up, they might include numbness and tingling in your fingers, muscle cramps, fatigue, poor appetite, or abnormal heart rhythm.
Eventually, people with calcium deficiency may experience a bunch of neurological, muscle, and skin changes, such as confusion, memory loss, anxiety, seizures, and psoriasis.
Here’s the lowdown on foods and beverages rich in calcium (no cows required), along with recipes to incorporate them into a variety of everyday meals.
Since Americans often don’t get enough nutrients from foods alone, they may rely on supplements to fill in any gaps. But most health experts agree it’s best to get nutrients from food first.
Sail down the grocery aisle and stock up on these items, au naturel!
1. White beans
Calcium per 1 cup: 162 milligrams (16% DV)
Creamy and light, these legumes are a great source of calcium and iron. Add them to a pasta dish with veggies or skip the chickpeas and make your own hummus with white beans.
2. Canned salmon
Calcium per 3 ounces with bones: 212 milligrams (21% DV)
To avoid putting a dent in your wallet, canned salmon is a great way to go. Here’s the catch: The bones in canned salmon hold all the calcium, so they need to be mashed up right along with the salmon meat for all the benefits!
But don’t get turned off just yet — the canning process softens the bones, so they easily break apart and mix seamlessly with the fish. For a boost of calcium and omega-3s, try these lox recipes.
Calcium per 3.75-ounce can: 351 milligrams (35% DV)
There’s nothing fishy about sardines — they’re one of the healthiest fish around. Along with calcium, they provide a hefty dose of omega-3s and vitamin D. Try adding them to a Greek salad or eating ’em straight out of the can.
4. Dried figs
Calcium per 1/2 cup: 120 milligrams (12% DV)
For a sweet treat, this dried fruit packs an antioxidant, fiber, and calcium punch.
5. Bok choy
Calcium per 1 cup: 74 milligrams (7% DV)
This versatile Chinese cabbage provides a hefty dose of vitamins A and C, along with calcium and fiber. Stir-fry bok choy with garlic and olive oil for a perfect side dish.
6. Blackstrap molasses
Calcium per 1 tablespoon: 100 milligrams (10% DV)
When your sweet tooth strikes, it’s best to go natural. Blackstrap molasses is darker in color and richer in flavor than regular molasses and is filled with calcium, iron, and other vitamins. Plus, it’s a great sweet and flavorful addition to many dishes.
Calcium per 1 cup: 53 milligrams (5% DV)
This nutrient-packed green is filled with calcium and antioxidants. Shred it into thin strips for a perfect base for any salad.
Not in the mood for a raw bowl of greens? Try one of these super-good kale recipes that aren’t salad.
Calcium per 1 ounce (about 20 nuts): 60 milligrams (6% DV)
You’re “nutty” if you don’t grab a handful of almonds every now and then. They’re the most nutritionally dense nut, packing an amazing amount of nutrients per calorie and ounce. Aside from calcium, they also contain potassium, vitamin E, and iron.
Sprinkle some on a salad, make your own almond butter, or whip up one of these nine almond butter snacks for a healthy pick-me-up. Just watch out for portion size, which is about 20 nuts.
Calcium per medium orange: 52 milligrams (5% DV)
Full of vitamin C and calcium, this fruit makes an ideal midmorning snack. Or use its citrus flavor to brighten up any dish, from veggie sides to chicken dinners. We’re big fans of an orange smoothie in the winter!
10. Turnip greens
Calcium per 1 cup: 80 milligrams (8% DV)
This leafy green comes from turnip bulbs and is filled with calcium, vitamin A, and folate. Fun fact: The combo of nutrients in leafy greens may even slow cognitive decline if they’re eaten every day.
Not too familiar with turnip greens? Try sautéing them as a side dish.
11. Sesame seeds
Calcium per 1 tablespoon: 88 milligrams (9% DV)
These unassuming seeds are more than just a hamburger bun decoration. Since they’re high in magnesium, sesame seeds may help lower blood pressure,
Use their nutty crunch in a salad or add them to this sautéed spinach dish.
12. Chia seeds
Calcium per 1 ounce: 179 milligrams (18% DV)
Ch-ch-ch-chia! We’re all about the calcium and uber-high omega-3 content of these crunchy little seeds. Rack up their bone-strengthening goodness by popping them into a pudding or these lemony muffins.
Calcium per 1 cup: 73 milligrams (7% DV)
Fish aren’t the only, well, fish in the sea. Seaweed not only contains plenty of calcium, magnesium, iron, and copper but is also a serious source of iodine, which helps with proper thyroid function.
Seaweed is super versatile as a wrap or in soups, salads, and noodle dishes.
Calcium per 1 cup, cooked: 116 milligrams (12% DV)
Is it a seed? Is it a grain? Or something in between? Technically, amaranth is a pseudocereal in the same family as quinoa. Botanical classifications aside, this powerhouse comes with tons of fiber and, yes, calcium.
Fortification is a popular way to add nutrients to foods that wouldn’t normally contain them. Sometimes, especially if you’re not eating dairy, it’s fine to reach for items with added calcium.
Just know that the bioavailability of calcium (how well your body absorbs it) may vary, depending on how it interacts with other ingredients in a food — and many calcium-fortified foods haven’t been tested to determine these bioavailability levels.
15. Instant oatmeal
Calcium per 1 packet: 98 milligrams (10% DV)
Many cereals and grains are now fortified, including our favorite morning breakfast. And while the instant kind doesn’t boast all the same benefits as old-fashioned rolled oats, it’s a quick breakfast option that’s full of fiber and calcium.
Just choose the kinds without added sugar.
16. Orange juice
Calcium per 1 cup: 349 milligrams (35% DV)
In moderation, fruit juice is a perfect pairing for morning pancakes or eggs. Enjoy a tall glass for calcium, vitamin C, and that immune system-boosting power.
17. Soy milk
Calcium per 1 cup: 300 milligrams (30% DV)
Cow’s milk not your cup of tea? Soy milk is a great option for people who are lactose intolerant, and many brands contain as much protein as dairy milk.
Pour it into a morning bowl of cereal or add it to coffee with some cinnamon.
18. Almond milk
Calcium per 1 cup: 481 milligrams (48% DV)
While you’re jumping on the alt-milk bandwagon, put almond milk on the menu too. One cup of this fortified beverage supplies almost half your daily calcium needs.
19. Firm tofu
Calcium per 1/2 cup: 861 milligrams (86% DV)
So… what exactly is tofu, again? This hearty vegetarian meat substitute is made of dried soybeans that have been ground up and boiled. It’s a great way to add lots of protein, a little fat, and (of course) calcium to any meal.
What’s on the dinner table tonight? Try this crispy baked tofu or tofu scramble.
Calcium per 1 cup: 112 milligrams (11% DV)
Remember your favorite little childhood Os? Cheerios pack a significant amount of calcium into your cereal bowl. Enjoy with skim or soy milk and sliced strawberries or in a homemade trail mix for extra crunch.
When it comes to must-have nutrients, calcium is at the top of the list. (That’s why you’ll always see it listed on nutrition facts labels!)
Good old-fashioned milk and cheese are excellent sources, but if dairy’s off the menu, it’s not impossible to meet your daily calcium quota with nuts, veggies, beans, and more.
Meanwhile, as you stock up on calcium-rich foods, don’t forget the vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium. Pair high-vitamin D choices like salmon, tuna, eggs, and mushrooms with any of the foods listed here.