The dairy industry is hardly shy about touting the benefits of milk, cheese, yogurt and other milk-based products for building strong teeth and bones. But is dairy really the best way to get your recommended calcium intake? After all, not everyone can or wants to consume dairy. Thousands of years ago our ancestors did not depend on dairy. Their diets were filled with nutrients in the form of vegetables. The same can be true today with carefully planned and balanced meals.
“Strong, healthy teeth can be achieved easily through non-dairy products alone,” says Dr. Trish Takacs, a cosmetic dentist from Lexington, KY. “It all depends on the calcium intake of the individual.” There are a wide variety of foods that surpass even a tall glass of milk in calcium content. And meals made with these delicious foods are a simple solution to long term health risks like tooth decay, fractured bones and osteoporosis.
These calcium-rich foods can be added to any diet imaginable. Whether the diet be high-protein, low-fat, gluten-free or vegan. In fact, you’re probably eating many of them already.
A few dairy free calcium alternatives include:
Kale: A member of the cabbage family; well-known for lowering cholesterol and maintaining a healthy digestive track.
Broccoli: Contains fiber, lowers cholesterol, great for body detoxification, and helps supply Vitamin D&K
Almonds/Almond Butter/Almond milk: A nut filled with healthy fats and proteins that can be used for adding healthy calories to almost any diet.
Tahini: A paste made from sesame seeds that can be a great source of added protein. Tahini has a smooth, creamy consistency perfect for making sauces and salad dressings.
Collard greens: Similar in taste and texture to kale; powerful source of vitamins K, A, C and the mineral manganese.
Calcium fortified soy milk: Made from soybeans and enriched specifically with calcium to build strong bones.
Spinach: A dark leafy green that is filled with calcium.
Fruits: Certain fruits like figs and currants also contain a good amount of calcium, for those who aren’t fond of leafy green vegetables.
Why Calcium variation is important:
There are many people in the world who are vegan, lactose intolerant, or just don’t like milk. Well-meaning friends and relatives may jump to the conclusion that these people are at risk for calcium deficiency. While some may fit the profile, most of them do not. Just like protein and fats, calcium should not come from one source alone. A variety of nutrient sources ensures a healthy body.
When shopping for produce in your local grocery store or farmers market, just remember that the darker the leaf, the higher the calcium content. This is especially true for spinach and kale especially.
Do I have to stop eating dairy?
The answer is no, you do not have to stop. It is still an excellent source of calcium and there is no need to give it up unless you want to. Remember, variation is the key to maintaining or enhancing bone strength. You will be protecting your body from fracture and deterioration. Bones are just as important as any organ in the body. If you keep them healthy, they will serve you well for a long, long time.