“But where do you get your calcium?”
If you’re dairy free, I’m sure you’ve heard this question. Whether from friends, family, or a stranger in the checkout line, it’s usually spoken in a scandalized tone by someone who’s clearly agog that you don’t drink milk.
I confess, the question makes me a little crazy. Because—logically speaking—why would adult humans need to drink baby-cow growth formula just to get enough calcium?
Yet I understand why people are shocked. We’re taught from day one that milk is the source of calcium in anyone’s diet. Without milk, your bones are pretty much destined to dissolve as you age, right?
I don’t know about you, but that’s the message I got.
However, when you dig into the science, an entirely different picture emerges: Multiple studies have found that drinking milk doesn’t prevent fractures at all.1,2 One study even found that drinking lots of milk increased hip fracture risk in older women.3 Ironically, taking calcium supplements is also linked to broken bones4. In fact, it looks like getting enough, but not too much calcium, is the way to go.
So, what decreases fracture risk? Fruits and veggies.5 This may be because many fruits and vegetables contain not only calcium, but magnesium, potassium, and vitamin C, which are essential to strong bones. (Vitamin D also helps prevent broken bones; you can get it from sun, supplements, and fortified foods.)
So I’ve settled on an answer to the checkout lady’s calcium question. I simply say:I get my calcium from the same place cows do: Plants! Click To Tweet
Food for thought. 🍅
How much calcium do you really need?
Surprisingly, not that much. According to the U.S. government, women ages 19-50 need 1000 mg of calcium per day. And that estimate may be high; the U.K.’s National Health Service states that adults need only 700 mg per day.
Since I’m in the States, I’ll list the current U.S. calcium recommendations for adults. (Guidance for kids here.) But if you’re in the U.K., apparently you’re off the hook. 😉
Luckily, just a few of servings of calcium-rich veggies can help you get the calcium you need while powering you up with a host of health-boosting nutrients. So grab your cutting board and a good, sharp knife. Let’s dig into some calcium-rich veggies!
Note: Most calcium values that follow are per 1 cup cooked vegetable. See note in italics at the end of each vegetable entry for further details. All data from the USDA’s National Nutrient Database.
14 Calcium Rich Vegetables
1. Collard greens: 357 mg calcium
This southern staple is a calcium powerhouse! Try Superfast Hoisin Collard Greens for a quick and easy way to enjoy. (357 mg per 1 cup boiled and drained collard greens, cooked from frozen.)
2. Edamame: 261 mg calcium
That tasty sushi-restaurant appetizer? It contains over a quarter of your daily calcium and nearly 22 grams of protein, nearly the same amount of protein as 4 eggs! (261 mg per 1 cup boiled and drained green soybeans)
3. Turnip greens: 249 mg calcium
Possibly the tastiest part of the turnip, the greens are a great source of calcium. (249 mg per 1 cup boiled and drained turnip greens, cooked from frozen)
4. Nopales: 244 mg calcium
If nopales, or cactus paddles, are new to you, you’re not alone. But given how rich they are in calcium, they’re at the top of my to-try list. I’ll be starting with this scrumptious-looking Raw Papaya-Nopal Salad from Gastrawnomica. (244 mg per 1 cup cooked nopales)
5. Kale: 179 mg calcium
Kale is still cool, right? 😎 Well, when it comes to calcium, it certainly is. Think you don’t like kale? Try it in this absurdly addictive (and easy) Kale and Mango Salad with Creamy Ginger Dressing. You may just have a change of heart. (179 mg per 1 cup of boiled and drained kale; 137 mg per cup of raw chopped Scotch kale)
6. Mustard greens: 165 mg calcium
Slow-cooking brings out the best in calcium-rich mustard greens. I highly recommend these Vegetarian Mustard Greens from Budget Bytes. They’re tender and tasty for only $0.70 per serving. (165 mg per 1 cup of chopped, boiled, drained mustard greens)
7. Baby bok choy: 158 mg calcium
Also known as pak choi, baby bok choy is delicious braised, stir fried, or sliced into ribbons for salad. You can also try chopping up raw bok choy and tossing it with with grated carrots, hot brown rice or quinoa, ground flax seed, and a sprinkle of soy sauce. Easy and delicious! (158 mg per 1 cup of shredded, boiled, drained baby bok choy)
8. Dandelion greens: 147 mg calcium
While they’re wildly nutritious, dandelion greens can be seriously bitter. To mellow them out, blanche them in boiling water for 1 minute, then drain and rinse with cool water. Then proceed with sauteing and stir frying. (147 mg per 1 cup of chopped, boiled, drained dandelion greens)
9. Snow peas: 150 mg calcium
Delicious in stir-fries, snow peas—along with their cousins sugar snap peas—are a welcome addition to any veggie tray or lunch box. (150 mg per 1 cup of boiled & drained snow peas)
10. Broccoli rabe: 100 mg calcium
Pronounced “broccoli rob,” this is another vegetable I’ve never actually eaten. (In fact, I had to look up the pronunciation!) That said, I’m eager to give it a whirl in this yummy-looking potato and broccoli rabe casserole from FatFreeVegan.com. (100 mg per 1 NLEA serving of cooked broccoli rabe—about 4 stalks)
11. Acorn squash: 90 mg calcium
Calcium-rich acorn squash is the ultimate stuffing veggie. For an easy, tasty dinner, roast seeded acorn squash halves upside down on parchment paper or a Silpat at 375 for 45 minutes. Once tender and lightly browned, turn the halves over and fill with chili, stew, or sauteed veggies and beans. Voila: A simple, satisfying supper—with a hearty helping of calcium. (90 mg per 1 cup baked squash cubes)
12. Sweet potatoes: 89 mg calcium
Sweet potatoes: my favorite veggie! You can easily enjoy them sliced into fries, which you can microwave with a little water or roast at 425F for 20 minutes. Of course, I proceed to dip my fries in an absurd amount of ketchup, but that’s optional. 😉 I also love baked sweet potatoes smashed open and smothered with copycat vegan Hidden Vallen ranch dressing. Yum! (89 mg per 1 cup boiled and mashed sweet potato, without skin)
13. Stewed tomatoes: 87 mg calcium
If you’re a chili fan, you’re in luck: Stewed tomatoes have a nice dose of calcium. Not a chili fan? Try Peanut-Sweet Potato Stew. You’ll get an added calcium boost from the sweet potatoes. (87 mg per 1 cup canned, stewed tomatoes)
14. Butternut squash: 84 mg calcium
Who knew sweet, creamy butternut squash was a calcium king? You’ll love it in this meatless Stuffed Butternut Squash recipe from Rock My Vegan Socks, pictured above. (84 mg per 1 cup baked squash cubes)
Where’s the spinach?
I can hear the nutrition buffs now: But spinach has lots of calcium! Where is it?
You’re right, spinach does have loads of calcium. But it also has lots of oxalate, which blocks your body from absorbing calcium. And that means most of the calcium from spinach ends up in your 💩. (Oh yes she did.)
So while spinach is nutritious for about a thousand other reasons, calcium isn’t one of them.
Where will you get your calcium?
Dark leafy greens like collards sauteed with garlic and onions? Or maybe scrumptious butternut squash roasted until tender with cumin? Whatever you decide, your bones—and the rest of your body—will thank you.
- Are you dairy free: What was your #1 reason for giving up milk?
- Feskanich D, Willett WC, Colditz GA. Calcium, vitamin D, milk consumption, and hip fractures: a prospective study among postmenopausal women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 Feb;77(2):504-11. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/77/2/504.long
- Sonneville KR, Gordon CM, Kocher MS, Pierce LM, Ramappa A, Field AE. Vitamin D, Calcium, and Dairy Intakes and Stress Fractures Among Female Adolescents. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2012;166(7):595-600. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2012.5.
- Michaëlsson K, Wolk A, Langenskiöld S, et al. Milk intake and risk of mortality and fractures in women and men: cohort studies. The BMJ. 2014;349:g6015. doi:10.1136/bmj.g6015.
- Bischoff-Ferrari HA, Dawson-Hughes B, Baron JA, et al. Calcium intake and hip fracture risk in men and women: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies and randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;86(6):1780-90. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/86/6/1780.full
- Byberg L, Bellavia A, Orsini N, Wolk A, Michaëlsson K. Fruit and vegetable intake and risk of hip fracture: a cohort study of Swedish men and women. J Bone Miner Res. 2015 Jun;30(6):976-84. doi: 10.1002/jbmr.2384.