If you’re dairy-free by choice or necessity, then this probably sounds familiar:
“If you don’t drink milk or eat cheese, then HOW DO YOU GET YOUR CALCIUM?”
I’ve been asked this more times than I can count. And I can count pretty high!
But do you ever stop to really think about whether or not you are, in fact, getting enough calcium? Recently I took a “calcium inventory” and realized that I probably do NOT get enough calcium from diet alone. EEK! Not good, especially with my history of gut “issues” and resulting nutrient malabsorption. My New Year’s Resolution? Eat more calcium!
I am leery about relying on calcium supplements due to the possibility that they may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, my understanding is that the calcium found in calcium-fortified foods (such as juices, cereals, etc.) is not as bio-available or as absorbable as the calcium found in foods that are NATURALLY calcium-rich.
So what are those naturally calcium-rich foods? Great question! I decided to “bone up” on my knowledge of whole, clean, calcium-filled foods and compiled the following list.
Great whole foods sources of calcium:
- white beans and black-eyed peas (A great source if you tolerate legumes… Consider soaking and/or sprouting to make more digestible and to reduce phytic acid, which can inhibit absorption of calcium)
- canned salmon and sardines (Calcium-rich largely because of the bones, which are small and soften during the canning process)
- dried figs
- blackstrap molasses
- almonds (Again, consider soaking and/or sprouting to make more digestible and to reduce phytic acid, which can inhibit absorption of calcium)
- dark green leafy greens, particularly collards, turnip greens, mustard greens, bok choy, and kale*
- sesame seeds and tahini
- hemp seeds
- bone broth (read about bone broth as a calcium source right here)
*I was surprised to learn that spinach, although often touted a calcium-filled food, is may NOT be the best choice for calcium. Although it’s full of other wonderful vitamins and nutrients, the calcium in spinach is not highly absorbable!
Of course, you need more than high-calcium foods alone.
Fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K2, and the mineral magnesium are essential for proper calcium absorption, so you need to be sure to think about these nutrients as well. I adore my “Natural Calm” magnesium supplement, I eat egg yolks for vitamin A, I eat grassfed ghee and naturally fermented sauerkraut for vitamin K2, and I love using outdoor time as an excuse to make vitamin D.
Did you know that vitamin D is actually a hormone? So… That being said, you also need to think about keeping your hormonal pathways in balance by getting enough sleep, managing your stress, and keeping your blood sugar stable and under control. Another great reason to ditch refined sugar!
I’ve also learned, in Marc David’s amazing book “The Slow Down Diet,” that STRESS can actually cause a leeching of calcium out of the bones. He’s a big promoter of deep breathing when it comes to stress management and overall wellness, and so am I! Click here to read about “core breathing” — a wonderful, health-promoting (and heck, maybe even BONE-BUILDING) practice.
Finally, as the “eat clean, and move every day” evangelist, you knew that exercise would come into play… And it does. Great bone health requires plenty of weight-bearing exercise using proper posture and alignment to physically stress (and ultimately, strengthen) your load-bearing joints (the joints that tend to get osteoporosis).
All that being said, let’s talk RECIPES!
How to get calcium without eating dairy (a day of yummy, naturally cacium-rich, dairy-free recipes)…
Pancakes with (calcium-filled) fixins!
I made these gluten and grain-free pancakes from Made To Glow (click here for the recipe), EXCEPT that I subbed almond meal/flour for the cashew meal/flour. Why? Because almonds are a great source of calcium!
Now for the fun part… The toppings. I drizzled my pancakes with tahini and chopped figs (both high in calcium) and added sliced bananas because I love ’em. No syrup needed! However, if you want BONUS calcium-points, you can add a drizzle of blackstrap molasses.
For even MORE bonus calcium-points, enjoy a side of steamed broccoli with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. Broccoli is high in calcium and — call me crazy, but — I LOVE eating leftover steamed broccoli cold, straight out of the fridge. Whenever we make steamed broccoli I make EXTRA so that I can have it for breakfast the next morning. It always makes me feel like a superhero (and helps stabilize my blood sugar).
I like to have my biggest meal at mid-day, when digestion is strongest. This following recipe is great because it can be prepped ahead of time. The salad is even better as “leftovers” (after a day in the fridge), and the turnip greens are good hot or cold.
Garlicky Turnip Greens + Hoppin’ John Salad (Vegan!)
For turnip greens (serves 2-4):
- 1 Tbsp coconut oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 14-16 oz bag frozen turnip greens (keep ’em frozen… No need to thaw!)
- Salt to taste
In large skillet, melt coconut oil over medium heat. When hot and melted, add garlic and then turnip greens. Let sizzle for a moment, then give it a quick stir and COVER. Use a lid that fits your skillet, or cover tightly with foil. Let cook for 2-3 minutes, then remove lid, stir again, add 1 Tbsp water (max), and cover again. Cook for another 2-3 minutes. Uncover, stir, sprinkle with salt, and cook for a final 30-60 seconds until all water is evaporated and greens are hot.
For Hoppin’ John salad (serves 4-5):
- 3 cups cooked blackeyed peas (this is probably equivalent to about 2 cans, drained and rinsed… I’m not 100% sure because I used dried blackeyed peas and soaked, sprouted, and cooked them myself)
- 2 ribs celery, diced
- 1 bell pepper (red or yellow), diced
- 1/2 red onion, diced
- 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/2 – 1 tsp sea salt (I used 1 tsp, but if you use canned blackeyed peas you’ll probably want to use less!)
- ground black pepper to taste
- dash of cayenne pepper
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
- 2 Tbsp good quality, aged balsamic vinegar (the thick, rich type… So good.)
Combine EVERYTHING in a large bowl. Toss gently until completely combined. Serve immediately or refrigerate for a few hours or even overnight. Makes great leftovers!
Soup is such a lovely way to end the day. It’s easy to digest, warming, and satisfying. And of course, since this is a calcium-filled day, soup has the added bonus of a bone broth base. As mentioned above, Katie from Wellness Mama recommends broth as a mainstay of dairy-free, high calcium eating. I love egg-drop soup. This version, adapted from the Paleo Parent’s recipe, adds calcium-rich bok choy.
Egg Drop Soup with Bok Choy (serves 2)
- 2 cups homemade bone broth
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1/2 tsp fish sauce (I use Red Boat brand. Don’t skip the fish sauce! It adds amazing flavor…)
- 1/4 tsp ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp sea salt if using homemade or low sodium broth
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 2-4 Tbsp sliced green onions
- 4-5 bok choy leaves, sliced into thin strips
In small pot on the stove, add broth, sesame oil, fish sauce, ginger, and sea salt. Heat to a simmer.
WHILE HEATING THE SOUP, PREPARE THE “MIX-INS” (eggs, sliced green onions, and sliced bok choy). They need to be ready to go by the time the soup base is simmering.
When soup reaches a simmer, pour in raw beaten eggs in a thin stream. They’ll immediately cook and “bloom” into flower-like blobs and fun little strands. So fun!
Immediately after pouring in the raw eggs, add sliced bok choy and sliced green onions. Give the soup a stir, then remove from heat and serve.
Feel the need for some additional protein? I like topping my soup with wild, pole-caught tuna.