Friday, February 4, 2011

Myth: Dairy is the only source for calcium.

Answer: BUSTED!

dairy productsWhile dairy is a great source for calcium, it is not necessarily the only source. Since calcium has been found to be so important for bone health and adolescent growth, many foods are now being fortified, meaning that calcium is being added to the product during the manufacturing process. Dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt are always good sources of calcium. However, not everyone enjoys those foods. Luckily, there are other options.

It may come as a surprise, but vegetables contain calcium, especially dark, green leafy vegetables. This includes everything from broccoli to collard/turnip greens, kale and spinach. Raw vegetables provide the most calcium because when vegetables are cooked they lose some of their valuable nutrients. But if you only like cooked green vegetables then getting your calcium that way is better than nothing!

If vegetables are not your thing then try beans. Not only do they provide a decent amount of calcium, but you can add beans to soups, chili or tacos. Any bean will do, so whether you prefer kidney beans, baked beans or black beans, they can add valuable calcium to your diet.

Don’t forget about calcium-fortified foods. Many companies add calcium to their products, which is usually advertised on the front of the package. Always remember to look at the nutrition facts to see how much calcium is in one serving. It is wise to compare products and brands so you can choose the product with the highest calcium level. Foods that are typically fortified include orange juices, breads and dry cereals.

You can also get calcium from fish. Canned fish such as sardines and salmon with bones are the best fish sources of calcium. Be sure to check the packages of salmon because some contain bones and others do not. Tuna is a very popular canned fish, but it is not packaged with the bones; therefore, fresh tuna would provide a better source of calcium.

Periodic Table of the Elements symbol for calcium
How can you increase your calcium intake?
  • Add cheese to eggs for breakfast
  • Add broccoli to dishes such as macaroni and cheese
  • Drink a glass of milk with evening cookies or graham crackers
  • Add beans to favorite soups
  • Choose spinach instead of iceberg lettuce
  • Add cheese on deli sandwiches
  • Check the orange juice you normally purchase and try a calcium-fortified version instead
  • Try a yogurt, granola and fresh fruit parfait as an afternoon snack or for breakfast

Go ahead and try to increase your daily calcium intake, and have stronger bones and healthier teeth as a result!

Contributors: Mallory Bratton, KU Med Dietetic Intern & Denise Schmitz, M.A., R.D., Nutrition & Health Education Specialist, University of Missouri Extension, 816-482-5854,

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