Our bones depend on nutrients to stay strong and supple as we age—nutrients that come from our diet. Most people know that dairy products are rich in calcium and vitamin D, two nutrients essential to good bone health, but what do you do if you're lactose intolerant?
Learn more: Calcium Is Needed for Strong Bones
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Luckily, there are many other options that can help you get your daily calcium and help ward off health problems associated with brittle bones, like osteoporosis.
In general, the recommended daily allowance of calcium for adults is between 1,000 and 1,200 mg. Women need 1,200 mg of calcium, as they are more likely to develop osteoporosis.
A serving of milk has about 300 mg of calcium. So, in theory, women are supposed to be drinking around four glasses of milk per day. But that much milk per day can be a stretch even for people who like milk and can drink it without tolerance problems.
This is why it's helpful to know about alternative ways to get calcium in your diet. Additionally, there are positive steps you can take to make sure your body is absorbing as much calcium as possible.
10 ways to get more calcium
- Avoid soft drinks. Consuming large quantities of soda raises phosphate levels in the blood, which can leach calcium from your bones and prevent the absorption of new calcium.
- Get enough vitamin D. Calcium is absorbed by the body and used only when there is enough vitamin D in your system. A balanced diet should provide an adequate supply of vitamin D from sources such as eggs and fortified orange juice. Don't forget that sunlight also helps the body naturally absorb vitamin D; just 5 to 10 minutes of sun exposure per day should help you reach your daily intake of vitamin D.
- Eat your beans. Beans are high in calcium as well as protein. Baked beans are particularly high in calcium. One cup of baked beans has 154 mg of calcium (remember the target is 1,200 mg/day).
- Try canned salmon. Three ounces of canned salmon contain 181 mg of calcium. Salmon also is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Choose calcium-fortified foods. Many foods are now calcium-fortified. You can find calcium-fortified soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, orange juice, cranberry juice, breakfast cereals, and breakfast bars at almost every grocery store. An 8-oz glass of calcium-fortified orange juice provides about 300 mg of calcium, which is about the same as a single serving of milk. One cup of calcium-fortified soy milk has nearly 300 mg of calcium and can be eaten with calcium-fortified cereal, combining two great sources of calcium in one meal.
- Include oatmeal in more than just breakfast. One cup of oatmeal not only provides 100 to 150 mg of calcium, it is also a versatile add-in to many other foods and can be used to goose up the calcium quotient in your breakfast cereal, added to yogurt, or even mixed in with your favorite baking recipes.
Learn more: Sources of Calcium in Food
- Eat your veggies. Spinach, broccoli, and other dark green leafy vegetables are especially high in calcium, providing about 100 mg of calcium per serving. In addition to just making an effort to eat your greens, you can also try substituting raw spinach for iceberg lettuce on your sandwiches and in your salads.
- Go nuts. Almonds and Brazil nuts contain about 100 mg of calcium per serving and are recommended snacks for people on low carb diets.
- Start your day with a soy latte. A 16-oz latte provides almost half your daily calcium. If you’re lactose intolerant, you can get your latte made with soy instead of regular milk.
- Take an over-the-counter calcium supplement. You can add an over-the-counter calcium supplement like Os-Cal or even Tums to your daily routine if you still can’t get enough calcium. However, it is important to remember that just because a single Tums tablet has 200 mg of calcium doesn’t mean you can take 5 a day to meet your recommended daily allowance. Tums are primarily an antacid, not a calcium supplement, so it can have a detrimental effect on your digestive system if taken long-term.