6 Best Calcium-Rich Foods to Eat
Best known for its role in bone health, calcium is actually the most abundant mineral in your body and is involved in many important body functions. "It plays a vital role in nerve function, hormone regulation, cardiovascular health and building and maintaining strong bones and teeth," notes Kristina Todini, RDN, creator of ForkInTheRoad.co. The recommended daily intake of calcium is 1,000 mg per day for most adults (women over 50 and anyone over 70 need 1,200 mg per day).
Many of us grew up being told to drink milk for strong bones — and if you're a 90's child you may remember the iconic "Got Milk?" campaign with milk mustaches encouraging us all to drink more milk. But milk is just one way to meet your calcium needs.
In fact these five foods have more calcium than a glass of milk (more than 300mg):
- Yogurt (8 ounces)
- Calcium-fortified orange juice (1 cup)
- Mozzarella cheese (1.5 ounces)
- Sardines (3 ounces)
- Cheddar cheese (1.5 ounces)
"While dairy sources of calcium like milk and cheese are often the largest calcium source for most Americans, it's entirely possible to meet your needs from plant-based foods," notes Todini.
Whatever type of diet you follow, it's important to get enough of this mineral. "There are many myths floating around that vegans don't need to ensure they meet their calcium needs, but maintaining strong, healthy bones is important," adds Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN, the Plant-Powered Dietitian.
Wondering how to get enough? The following list includes some of the best sources to help you meet your needs, while also consuming foods that contribute other nutrients for optimal health. Milk optional.
1. Leafy Greens
On most "superfood" lists, leafy greens are packed with nutrients, including calcium. All dark leafy greens offer some calcium, but "some leafy greens (such as spinach, chard, and beet greens) have high oxalic acid levels which can interfere with calcium absorption," warns Palmer. The good news is—some of the better greens for calcium also have lower levels of oxalic acid. These include collard greens (266mg/cup cooked), bok choy (160 mg/cup cooked), kale (179 mg/cup cooked), and broccoli rabe (100 mg/cup cooked). If you're relying on greens to help meet your calcium needs, choose those first. Try our Lemony Lentil Soup with Collards for a plant-based, calcium-rich dish or whip up Massaged Kale Salad with Grapes & Cheddar for a yummy salad with 150mg of calcium per serving.
"A powerhouse of good bacteria for your gut, kefir is also an excellent source of calcium containing between 300 to 400 milligrams per cup, even more than what cow's milk offers," says Cheryl Mussatto, M.S., RD, LD. This fermented dairy drink is also "rich in magnesium and potassium, and research shows it can help lower blood pressure. It's also a great source of vitamin K2, a nutrient that helps reduce calcification in our arteries," notes Michelle Routhenstein, M.S. RD CDE, Owner of Entirely Nourished.
Kefir is a great addition to smoothies (try our Berry-Mint Kefir Smoothie). For a savory option, Routhenstein recommends using kefir in a dip with spices like smoked paprika, nutritional yeast and garlic powder.
"Soybeans are naturally rich in calcium and one of the most versatile plant-based sources of the mineral," says Todini. Commonly eaten as edamame, one cup cooked contains around 100 mg of calcium, which also comes along with a good dose of other nutrients including plant-based protein, fiber, folate, vitamin K, B vitamins and iron.
Soybeans are also used to make many soy-based products including tofu and soymilk, but much of the calcium is lost in the process of making the foods. However, calcium is added back in during the process of making tofu and soymilk is often fortified with this mineral. "Tofu that has been prepared with calcium can provide 200-434 mg of calcium per 4-ounce serving," notes Palmer. "If you are eating a completely plant-based diet, it's a good idea to get soy foods like tofu in your diet each day for many reasons, including calcium," she adds.
3 ounces of canned sardines (with the bones) provide about one-third of the RDI, which is more than a cup of milk! They also provide vitamin D, which plays an important role in calcium absorption, and are one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Before you turn your nose up at this tiny (and admittedly out-of-the-box) fish, try our Lemony Garlic Sardine Fettuccine, which is a great gateway into this food. For the more adventurous eater, our Romaine Wedges with Sardines and Carmelized Onions or Roasted Pepper and Sardine Toast are a great way to enjoy this calcium-rich fish.
Just can't get past the stronger flavor of sardines? Try canned salmon with the bones, another good source of calcium. The calcium is found in the tiny bones, so if they've been removed, it doesn't count (sorry!). Mix it up into a salmon salad (like tuna salad) or make our Easy Salmon Cakes for a calcium-rich lunch or dinner
Clocking in at around 400 mg of calcium per cup, plain yogurt is one of the best food sources of calcium. "It also contains gut friendly probiotics along with protein, phosphorus, potassium, riboflavin, and B12," adds Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim. When it comes to calcium content, regular yogurt wins out over Greek yogurt, though both are still good options. Choose plain (over flavored) and sweeten it with fruit and a bit of honey (if needed) to limit added sugar intake. Amy Scott-MacLean, M.S., RDN, CHWC, owner of WellnessWise, Inc, recommends whole milk yogurt because it keeps you full longer and tends to have less sugar than low-fat or fat-free yogurts.
Try our Ricotta and Yogurt Parfait for a double dose of calcium—both the yogurt and ricotta cheese can help you reach your daily needs.
6. Fortified Plant Milks
Many plant-based milks contain some calcium, and can be a very good source. "You have to check the labels, but many have up to 450 mg of calcium per 8 ounces." says Palmer. That's more than a cup of cow's milk. Fortified soy milk, such as Silk, and pea-protein milk, like Ripple, are two of the better plant-based milks from an overall nutrition standpoint. They not only offer more than 30 percent of your daily calcium needs, but also contain protein, vitamin D, and other important nutrients. "Fortified milks are an easy way to fit calcium in the diet, especially if you like it in your cereal, smoothies, and coffee drinks," adds Palmer. Choose unsweetened or those lower in sugar (under 5g per serving) to keep added sugar intake to a minimum.
Other Good Options
Other good sources of calcium include cow's milk, cheese, almonds, seeds (chia, sesame, and poppy seeds provide more than others), figs, oranges and foods fortified with calcium, like orange juice.
With a varied diet, it can be easy to meet your daily calcium needs, but if you're not eating a lot of dairy foods, you will need to be intentional about getting enough through food. Either way—eat a mix of the foods from this list and you'll set a great foundation—every bit adds up!