Are you looking to boost your calcium intake without relying on dairy but wondering whether there are non-dairy foods high in calcium?
The truth is that dairy has been made to seem like the best and only source of calcium when it’s not the case.
7 Best Non-Dairy Foods High in Calcium
In fact, dairy can cause you to lose more calcium from your bones (I’ll explain this in the article). So whether you’re struggling with lactose intolerance, you’re a vegan, or even if you want to try something new, there are more healthy and sustainable plant sources of calcium that you can trust.
In this article, I’ll take you through everything you need to know about calcium, why you need it, the best non-dairy foods high in calcium, and why dairy shouldn’t be on your list.
Let’s get started!
What Is Calcium?
Calcium is an essential mineral and the most abundant in the body, often associated with strong and healthy bones and teeth.
Calcium also plays a role in blood clotting processes, muscle contraction, maintaining normal nerve functions, and keeping your heart rhythms normal.
Low calcium levels can result in extreme fatigue, weak and brittle bones, muscle weakness, muscle cramps, hallucinations, and forgetfulness.
While calcium is often associated with animal food sources like dairy, there’re plenty of healthy, plant-based alternatives, including leafy greens, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds that can meet your needs and more.
Health Benefits of Calcium
1. Promotes bone health
Calcium is a major component in building and maintaining strong bones. That’s why 99% of it is stored in the bones and teeth.
Some people refer to the bone as the calcium bank. This is because it stores most of the calcium, and when some amount is needed outside the bones, the body will take what it needs from the bones.
This is common in the case of deficient dietary intake. If you persistently have low calcium levels and the body is taking from the bones, you’ll develop low bone density, which with time, can increase your risk for easy fractures and osteoporosis.
That being said, calcium needs to work with other nutrients to ensure optimum function. For instance, it needs vitamin D to promote its absorption.
Also, post-menopausal women may experience low calcium levels leading to osteoporosis due to low estrogen levels. Estrogen is a female sex hormone that also supports calcium absorption, but with menopause, its levels drop.
For such, supplementing with phytoestrogen-rich foods as well as those rich in calcium, can help restore bone health and function.
2. Protects the teeth and gums
Calcium-rich foods can help harden the enamel on the outside of your teeth, which helps protect against decay and cavities.
Cavities cause a break to the surface of the teeth, which can trap food particles and provide a breeding ground for bacteria. Calcium also helps keep the tissues surrounding the teeth strong and healthy.
3. Treats high potassium levels
Potassium is another essential mineral for the body, especially the heart, but too much can be toxic to your heart muscles.
Calcium stabilizes the cardiac cell membrane against these effects, thus preventing any damage before the potassium levels are returned to normal.
This is why calcium gluconate is often used as the first line of treatment for hyperkalemia, the medical term for high potassium levels in the blood.
4. Enhances weight management
Too much weight can be detrimental to your health. It can increase your risk of various health issues, including increased LDL cholesterol, heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and increased risk of mortality from any cause.
However, calcium can promote the breakdown of fat in the body while preserving thermogenesis. This raises the body’s core temperature, which in turn raises the metabolic rate and calorie-burning process, leading to weight loss.
5. Prevents cancer
Various human studies show that calcium supplements may help lower the risk of colorectal cancer.
In one study, men and women that took more than 700 mg of calcium daily had a 45 percent reduced risk of colon cancer compared to those that took 500 mg and below.
In a different study, vitamin D and calcium supplements were shown to lower the risk of breast cancer. Researchers further noted that vitamin D was more associated with reducing the risk in premenopausal women, while calcium was in postmenopausal women.
6. Protects your heart muscles
With each heartbeat, calcium enters the heart muscle cells to support the electrical signaling that coordinates your heart’s functions.
Calcium also boosts the contractility of the heart, thus boosting your heart’s ability to pump blood efficiently.
7. Lowers the risk of diabetes
Another benefit of consuming calcium-rich foods is that they can lower your risk of developing chronic conditions like diabetes.
This is because calcium plays an important role in glucose hemostasis and insulin secretion.
In one study, a higher calcium and vitamin D intake reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Another study found that a 300mg, 600mg, and 1000mg increase in dietary calcium reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes or hyperglycemia by 7%, 14%, and 23%, respectively.
Non-Dairy Foods High in Calcium
Some of the best non-dairy calcium-rich foods include:
1. Sesame seeds
Sesame seeds are an excellent source of calcium, providing about a quarter of the recommended daily intake in just one ounce.
To be precise, an ounce (28g) of roasted or toasted sesame seeds contains about 227 milligrams or 28 percent of your daily recommended value.
They are also a good source of magnesium and phosphorus, making them a valuable addition to a non-dairy diet.
Sesame seeds can be consumed whole, roasted, or ground into a powder. They can also be used in baking or added to smoothies and other recipes.
2. Chia seeds
With an ounce providing 177 milligrams, or 18 percent of your daily recommended value, chia seeds are another great non-dairy source of calcium.
They are also a good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to fight inflammation, reduce blood pressure, and lower your risk of diabetes and heart disease.
Additionally, they provide a good amount of fiber linked to improved gut health. An ounce serving can provide up to 25% of your daily fiber needs.
Plus, their water-absorbing properties can increase their stomach volume, promoting early satiety and fullness, leading to weight loss.
Chia seeds are very versatile and can be added to many different kinds of recipes.
You can eat them whole or grind them into flour and use in recipes.
When used in baking, chia seeds can help thicken the batter and add nutrients. When added to smoothies or yogurt, they can boost consistency and promote early satiety.
Whichever way you decide to enjoy your chia, stay assured that they’ll boost your calcium levels when consumed regularly.
Almonds are a nutrient powerhouse rich in protein, fiber, healthy, fats, and antioxidants while being low in calories.
In fact, they are one of the lowest calorie nuts. This means they are good for your weight loss journey.
Almonds can also help increase brain activity, lower bad cholesterol, promote heart health, boost strong bones and teeth, and strengthen the immune system.
In addition to the nutrients mentioned above, almonds offer a good amount of essential minerals such as copper, manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium, significantly contributing to your overall intake of these nutrients.
An ounce of almonds contains 74.5 milligrams of calcium, translating to 7 percent of your recommended daily intake.
If you’re looking to add more almonds to your diet, there are a few easy ways. You can add them to your breakfast cereal or oatmeal, mix them into yogurt or smoothies, or snack on them throughout the day.
Soybeans are a type of legume that is native to East Asia. They are an excellent source of protein and calcium and can be used in a variety of dishes.
Tofu, tempeh, and edamame are all made from soybeans and are good sources of calcium. Soy milk is also a good source of calcium and can be used as a dairy-free alternative to cow’s milk.
5. Sunflower seeds
Sunflower seeds are a delicious and nutritious way to add extra flavor and nutrition to your diet, as they are home to many essential vitamins and minerals, including calcium.
A cup of toasted sunflower seeds without salt can offer up to 8 percent of your recommended daily intake.
They are also one of the richest sources of plant-based protein, with the same amount providing up to 46 percent of your recommended value.
Additionally, they contain high levels of zinc, copper, phosphorus, and magnesium, which can help boost your bone health.
Consuming sunflower seeds can promote weight loss, balance hormones, lower cholesterol, improve gut health, treat anxiety and depression, and fight cancer.
Add sunflower seeds to your diet in many ways, such as incorporating them into salads, soups, or pasta dishes.
Or, you can use them as a topping on cereal, yogurt, or oatmeal. Additionally, sunflower seeds can be used as a snack by themselves or in trail mix.
You can also make sunflower seed butter at home by blending roasted sunflower seeds with such as a little oil and salt. Spread it on toast, fruit, or crackers for a healthy snack.
6. White beans
A cup of cooked white beans can offer up to 16 percent of the calcium you need in a day. And since you can easily incorporate white beans into your main dish, they are one of the best sources to consider eating more often. Whether you use them as a simple dish on their own, in stews, or as a side dish, you’ll never go wrong with white beans.
You can even make a white bean dip or spread for your crackers or bread.
In addition to boosting calcium, white beans are high in fiber, thiamine, manganese, potassium, folate, magnesium, and iron.
This means their consumption can boost the various benefits of these nutrients, including a healthy digestive system, healthy weight, improved memory, reduced inflammation, boosted circulation, and reduced risk of developing cancer.
7. Sweet potato
Most people know sweet potato as a good vitamin A and beta carotene source, but it can also boost your calcium intake.
A cup of cooked sweet potato with skin (200g) contains 76.0mg of calcium or 8 percent of your daily requirements.
In addition, sweet potatoes are a good source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, which can help with bowel regularity and digestion. They also contain vitamins C and B6, as well as potassium and manganese.
You can enjoy sweet potatoes in different ways, including baking them and then adding them as a side dish. You can also make a sweet potato casserole or boil or steam the sweet potato and add it to salads or soups.
Effects of Dairy as a Source of Calcium:
1. Weakens bones
Dairy is high in phosphorus, and when you have too much phosphorus in your blood, the body will remove calcium from the bones to help neutralize it.
This often leads to weak bones and increases the risk of osteoporosis. It can also cause teeth and gum problems.
2. Hormonal imbalance
Dairy often contains hormones from a cow that can disrupt your natural hormones leading to hormonal balance.
The sugar in dairy, also known as lactose, can cause inflammation which can result in various inflammatory conditions like arthritis or worsen pre-existing ones.
Lactose can also be tough for some people to digest, leading to a condition known as lactose intolerance.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance include diarrhea, nausea, sometimes vomiting, stomach cramps, bloating, and gas within 30 to 2 hours of consuming dairy or dairy products.
4. High in saturated fats
Dairy products are a major source of saturated fat in the diet, and consuming too can lead to health problems, including increased cholesterol levels, increased risk of heart disease and stroke, and weight gain.
5. Food allergies
Another biggest danger of consuming dairy is the potential for developing food allergies. Dairy products contain a protein called casein, which can trigger an allergic reaction in some people.
Symptoms of a dairy allergy include wheezing, difficulty breathing, hives, and vomiting. In severe cases, anaphylactic shock can occur, which can be fatal.
Calcium is an essential mineral needed for various functions, including promoting healthy bones and teeth, enhancing weight loss, regulating potassium levels, preventing cancer, fighting diabetes, and protecting your heart muscles.
Most people obtain their calcium from dairy, and while it appears to be a good source, it can be quite detrimental to your overall health and well-being.
Dairy can cause your bones to leach calcium, thus making them weak. It can also cause inflammation and intolerances and increase your intake of saturated fats, which can also harm your health.
To ensure your health is well maintained, consider healthy non-dairy foods high in calcium, such as chia, sesame, almonds, sunflower seeds, white beans, and sweet potato. Plus, they are very easy to incorporate into the diet.
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