Although the importance of consuming enough calcium tends to be a discussion focused more heavily on women, calcium is equally important for men. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, it is critical for forming the structural components of bones and teeth. Furthermore, calcium plays key roles in muscle contraction, nerve conduction, heart health, and the secretion of various enzymes and hormones. A deficiency in calcium can not only increase your risk of fractures, but it can also cause fatigue, numbness and tingling, appetite changes, and other adverse health effects. Calcium needs vary throughout the lifespan, but the daily value for most men is between 1,000-1,300 mg.
When most people think of calcium-rich foods, milk and dairy products are the first—and perhaps only—foods that come to mind. Dairy products do tend to be high in calcium, but there are also non-dairy foods, including healthy vegetables and seeds that provide calcium as well. These plant-based foods are important sources of calcium for those following a vegan diet. Keep reading for a list of 13 of the best dietary sources of calcium, and be sure to double down on your favorites, or try some new ones, to support your bones, teeth, muscles, and nerves.
Milk is rich in calcium, with about 300mg per 8-ounce glass of skim milk. Whole milk and low-fat milk are slightly lower in calcium, though the bone-building benefits of calcium in milk that contains some fat may be enhanced. This is because milk is also a good source of vitamin D — a steroid hormone that increases the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in the gut — and vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin. In other words, the nutrients in milk with some fat are more readily taken up by the body. If you don’t drink dairy milk, look for soy milk or almond milk fortified with calcium. Although this calcium is synthetic, alternative milks can still be a good source of calcium.
Because yogurt is made by fermenting milk, it is also high in calcium. One cup of low-fat yogurt contains about 488mg of calcium or about 38% to 48% of the daily value depending on your needs. Yogurt is also rich in gut-healthy probiotics, which can aid digestion and support your immune system.
Sardines and small fish eaten with the bones are quite high in calcium. A 3.75-ounce can of sardines provides about 30% of the daily value of calcium. Clams, trout, and canned salmon with the bones are also excellent sources of calcium. Fatty fish, such as sardines and mackerel, are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory effects and improve heart health and brain function.
Seeds are certainly superfoods when it comes to providing vital nutrients. They have protein, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, vitamin E, and other key minerals, one of which is calcium. For example, a tablespoon of sesame seeds or poppy seeds contains about 125mg of calcium. Seeds can be easily added to yogurt, granola, cereals, smoothies, salads, trail mix, or eaten as a bedtime snack. After all, many seeds are also high in tryptophan, an amino acid that supports sleep. A one-ounce serving of squash or pumpkin seeds provides 164mg (58% RDI) of sleep-inducing tryptophan.
Leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale, chard, collard greens, and beet greens are among the healthiest vegetables on the planet. They are packed with fiber, water, vitamin C, vitamin A, iron, antioxidants, phosphorus, and nitrates, which improve circulation and may lower blood pressure. Leafy greens are also high in calcium, though it isn’t as readily absorbed as it is in non-plant sources. Iron inhibits the absorption of calcium. That said, you can’t go wrong with loading up on greens. A cup of cooked collard greens has over 260 mg of calcium, while spinach is a close second at around 245 mg per cup.
Some commercial orange juices are fortified with calcium. Orange juice is also high in vitamin C, which increases the absorption of calcium. However, juices are high in natural sugars, so they are not the healthiest choices on this list.
Certain dried fruits, such as figs and prunes, are relatively high in calcium. They also contain fiber, potassium, vitamin K, and iron. Dried fruit can make a good pre-workout snack, as they provide energizing carbohydrates without weighing you down.
Most tofu is prepared by soaking and pressing the soybean curd with calcium sulfate. This process fortifies the tofu calcium. A half-cup of firm tofu may contain around 800mg of calcium, which can be upwards of 80% of your daily value. Tofu is also packed with protein, antioxidants, and polyphenols, some of which reduce the risk of various diseases, including heart disease, certain cancers, and prostate enlargement.
Though cheese sometimes gets relegated as an unhealthy food due to the sodium and fat content, cheese actually provides valuable nutrients and can be part of a healthy diet. Cheese contains protein and can be quite filling. Most cheeses are also excellent sources of calcium, particularly the harder cheeses. For example, Parmesan cheese, which is cheese with the most calcium, provides 242mg per ounce. As with milk with fat, the body tends to absorb the calcium in cheese quite well, as it is paired with vitamin D and fat.
Moreover, in general, the absorption of calcium from plant-based sources tends to be lower because there are other compounds present in the plant that inhibit the bioavailability and absorption of calcium to some degree. For example, beans and legumes contain phytates and leafy greens contain iron, both of which reduce calcium absorption.
Many breakfast cereals are fortified with all sorts of essential nutrients, including anything from vitamin B12 — which is critical for energy generation — to iron. Many healthy breakfast cereals also contain up to 30% of the daily value of calcium. Look for cereals that use only whole grains, contain at least 4 to 5 grams of dietary fiber, and have little to no added sweeteners. These cereals will provide sustained energy from complex carbohydrates, and lasting satiety without spiking your blood sugar.
Whey protein powder is the concentrated isolate of whey protein, which is derived from milk. As such, it’s not only high in protein but also high in calcium. For example, a scoop of whey protein powder (1.2 ounces) provides about 160mg of calcium. Whey protein powder can be added to make protein shakes, smoothies, protein-packed oatmeal, or homemade protein balls.
Almonds contain more calcium than any other nut, at about 246 mg per 100 grams of raw almonds. They are also an excellent source of fiber, healthy fats, and vitamin E, which make almonds a great food for healthy hair and skin.
Legumes, including beans, peas, and lentils, are excellent sources of fiber, protein, and minerals such as iron, zinc, potassium, folate, and magnesium. Legumes such as soybeans and peanuts are also high in biotin, a B vitamin that supports hair and skin. Some varieties of legumes are also good sources of calcium. For example, one cup of black-eyed peas has nearly 300mg of calcium. Navy beans, white beans, and even green peas are also high in calcium.
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