However (this is the yes bit!) we do need calcium in our diet, and if those cutting dairy out don’t have a very varied diet they may be low in calcium. We need it for our bones but also for our muscle to work effectively. The UK government tells us we need around 700mgs of calcium a day. Some governments say much more – some less. But their figures are based on the assumption that not all of that calcium is going to be absorbed. Our actual biological need is between 3-500mgs. We get some in our water (very varied levels) but where else can we get it?
Good non-dairy sources include: Collard Greens (268 mg per cup); Almond Milk (381mgs per cup); Lentils (419 mg per cup); Sesame seeds (1404 mg per cup); Canned fish – especially if you eat the bones (sardines 569 mg per cup).
Interestingly not all dark leafy greens are created equal in terms of calcium. The calcium in spinach is less bio-available (ie it is not well absorbed) due to its oxolate content, which binds to calcium. Cooking leafy greens decreases oxalate content.
Similarly not all seeds are created equal. Pumpkin seeds have 61.4 mg v sesame’s 1404mg.
And finally the fibre and phytic acid content of pulses can reduce the bio-availability of calcium.
So that doesn’t mean there is no point eating lentils, pumpkin seeds and spinach. They are home to lots of other great nutrients and soaking pulses and seeds reduces their phytic acid content and increases their availability to the human body. It does mean you need to eat lots of different things, both cooked and raw in order to get all the nutrients you need.
Other ways to improve bone health: Sodium and protein use up calcium so should not be consumed in excess; Vit K and D are also important for bone health; Probiotics help with general absorption – particularly phytic acid; weight baring exercise is great for mineralising bones.
So is there any truth in the headline? Well – 50% of the calcium in cabbage, broccoli and kale is bio available when cooked. Where as only approx 30% of calcium in milk is bio available. You do the maths….. However you do actually have to eat your greens rather than just talk about it!!
Top tip – put blanched and then frozen kale in your smoothie, add in a desert spoon of sesame seeds, top it up with a cup of almond milk and then what ever else tickles your fancy (banana, sweet pots, coconut milk, cinnamon etc) …job done.