The Calcium Story, Part I

More and more of us are finding that eliminating dairy from our diet can help solve chronic health problems. Children stop having ear infections, digestive problems or constipation suddenly improve, and asthma, headaches and even depression may finally come to an end with just this simple step.

I am not suggesting that milk is always bad, or that everyone should avoid it, but those who are sensitive to it are better off without it. This is not an indictment of milk itself, but of the
modern production techniques that have altered an otherwise perfectly healthy food.

The next question on many people’s minds is: how can I get enough calcium without milk? The calcium story is a bit more complicated than just counting the number of milligrams consumed per day, but the good news is that there are many excellent sources of calcium aside from milk.

The first point to keep in mind is that the body cannot use calcium by itself. Without enough Vitamin D, for example, we cannot adequately absorb and utilize calcium. Bones also need other important minerals, and taking too much calcium alone can be actually damage our health by causing acidity in blood and contributing to plaque buildup in arteries.

To promote ideal calcium absorption, a majority of our calcium should come from natural food sources, whether we consume dairy products or not. Calcium-rich foods don’t just contain calcium; they also contain many associated nutrients including minerals and proteins that promote optimal calcium utilization. This complex food synergy cannot be easily achieved by just taking supplements. Supplements are man-made and can never quite match the optimal balance of nutrients found in nature.

Most foods contain at least some calcium as this mineral is found everywhere in nature. Certain grains, seeds and green vegetables are very rich in calcium, with sesame seeds containing four times more calcium than milk. The seeds can be digested properly only if finely ground – it’s easy to grind them in an inexpensive coffee grinder at home and sprinkle them over salads or other foods, add them to drinks like smoothies, use in baking, etc. If you are concerned about your ability to fully digest these foods and absorb the calcium and other nutrients they contain, having them with a digestive enzyme might help.

One strategy to obtain enough calcium is to select several combinations of high-calcium foods you can include in your or your child’s diet on a rotating basis. Calculate the calcium content of each combination using the table at the end of this section. You may also take a well-balanc ed, high-quality calcium supplement every day to fulfill any residual need.

For example, on Day One you can have one cup of amaranth flour and a quarter of a cup of ground sesame seeds in your meals for a total of 750 mg of calcium. Add 250 mg of calcium from a supplement if you need to reach 1,000 mg.

On Day Two, have half a cup each of almonds, tofu and ground flaxseeds and reach roughly the same 750 mg of calcium. You will not be able to match exactly every day’s calcium intake, so just average it and remember: variety is the key to obtain not only calcium but also a wide range of synergistic nutrients!

The next question is how much calcium do we really need on a daily basis? Unfortunately there is no general consensus on this point. Although the US recommended daily allowances (RDA) are often very low and have been nicknamed “recommended deficiency allowances,” they are unusually high when it comes to calcium.

The U.S. RDA for calcium in children aged 1 to 10 is 800 mg per day, whereas in the United Kingdom the recommended intake is 350-550mg. In addition, other dietary factors affect

calcium balance. Sugar and caffeine cause excretion of calcium and other minerals from the body, so if the diet is high in these products you will need extra calcium to make up for the loss.

In my opinion, an intake in the range of 500 mg in children under the age of 11, roughly double that for children over 11 and 700 mg in adults is adequate as long as the diet is “clean”
and low in sugar, stimulants and other junk foods. Higher intakes of calcium should be considered in special cases, including osteoporosis. I have included both the U.S. and U.K.

RDAs for calcium to give you more information about target intakes.

Food/Calcium content (mg) per cup unless otherwise indicated.

Milk, whole/291
Milk, 2%/297
Milk, nonfat/302
Cottage cheese/150
Yogurt, plain/274

Currants, zante, dried/124
Figs, dried/269 per 10 figs

Amaranth grain, boiled/276
Amaranth flour/407
Carob flour/359
Cassava flour/193
Cottonseed flour (low fat)/1,080
Garbanzo flour/324
Quinoa flour/324
Rice bran/128
Soybean flour (low fat)/165
Sweet potato flour/115
Teff, grain or flour/407 (note: contains gluten)

Hummus spread/124
Black-eyed peas, boiled/212
Navy beans, boiled/128
White beans, boiled/161
Wax beans, cut, canned/174
Beet greens, boiled/165
Chard, Swiss, boiled/102
Dandelion greens, boiled/146
Kale, boiled/180
Mustard greens, frozen, boiled/150
Okra, boiled/100
Parsley, dried/912
Taro, Tahitian, cooked/202

Soybean products:
Firm tofu/516

Nuts, seeds and nut butters:
Almond butter/688
Brazil nuts/400
Cashew butter/96
Cottonseed flour, low-fat/1,080
Filberts (hazelnuts)/424
Macadamia nuts/160
Pistachios, shelled/304
Pumpkin seeds, dried/96
Safflower seeds, dried/176
Sesame seeds, whole/1,408
Soybean nuts, dry roasted/464
Sunflower seeds/272

Sea Vegetables:
Agar agar, dried/1,438
Arame, dried/2691
Carragheen, dried/2,036
Dulse, dried/681
Hijiki, dried/3,220
Kelp, raw/386
Kelp, dried/1,840
Wakame, dried/2,990

Fish and shellfish:
Salmon (canned)/167 per 3oz serving (includes bones)
Sardines (canned)/371 per 3oz serving (includes bones)
Oysters (raw)/226

Sources: mostly from “Calcium without the Cow” by Sally Rockwell, PhD, CCN. Other books by Dr. Rockwell include “Allergy-Free Baking Tips for Special Flours,” “Allergy Recipes” and “The Rotation Game,” all available from

Recommended daily allowances for Calcium

Category/Age (years)/US RDA (mg)/UK nutrient intakes (mg)
Infants/7-12 mo/400/535

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