Not Milk? Non-dairy Sources of Calcium for Non-dairy Women

No mineral is more abundant in our bodies than calcium. It gives our bones and teeth strength and structure. Women need calcium throughout their lifespan for different reasons.

Until about age 30, it is essential to building bone mass. After age 30, appropriate daily calcium intake and absorption helps the aging female body fight bone loss, which begins in mid-adulthood and increases dramatically at menopause.

Daily recommended adequate intakes for females vary by age:
• 0 to 6 months – 210 mg
• 7 to 12 months – 270 mg
• 1 to 3 years – 500 mg
• 4 to 8 years – 800 mg
• 9 to 13 years – 1,300 mg
• 14 to 18 years – 1,300 mg
• 19 to 50 years – 1,000 mg
• 51-plus years – 1,200 mg

A balanced diet is the best way to fulfill your daily calcium requirements. We all know that dairy products are excellent sources of calcium. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Guide Pyramid recommends that people age 2  and older consume two to three servings of dairy products a day. But what if you don’t or can’t consume dairy products?

There are many other calcium-rich food and beverage choices as well as supplements available to help you meet your calcium needs.

Calcium supplements are also available and are often recommended by physicians and dietitians. In fact, calcium is one of the top-selling supplements in the United States. There are several types of calcium supplements, and the most popular are calcium carbonate and calcium citrate. Consider the following when you choose a calcium supplement:


  • 500 mg at a time — Your body can absorb about 500 mg at a time. Therefore, if your doctor recommends 1,000 mg of supplements a day, take 500 mg in the morning and 500 mg in the afternoon or evening to help ensure your body is getting what it needs.
  • Elemental calcium — Elemental calcium is the amount of calcium in a supplement. The amount of elemental calcium should be clearly listed on the label. If it isn’t, check the Nutrition Facts section of the label. It will be listed in milligrams according to serving size.
  • USP symbol — A United States Pharmacopeia  symbol means the supplement is free of lead and other metals, which your body cannot absorb. Your body can only use calcium after it dissolves in the stomach and is absorbed by the intestines. That USP symbol ensures the supplement will dissolve in your stomach.
  • Citrate vs. carbonate — Calcium carbonate is the most common supplement because it is inexpensive and convenient. Take it with food for best absorption. Stomach acid is needed to help your body absorb calcium carbonate. Acid blockers and other medications for indigestion diminish stomach acid. Therefore, calcium citrate, which does not need stomach acid for absorption, may be better for you if you take such medications. Also, you do not need to take calcium citrate with food.
  • Vitamin D — Unless you are vitamin D deficient, you do not need a calcium supplement that includes it. People who are age 70 or older or are homebound run the greatest risk of vitamin D deficiency. Check with your doctor about your risk of vitamin D deficiency.

It’s important to know that calcium, medications and some other nutrients like iron do not absorb well when taken together. If you are taking an antibiotic such as tetracycline, plan to take your calcium supplement or consume calcium-rich foods two hours before or after your antibiotic dose. The same goes for iron supplements. Take your calcium two hours before or after your iron supplement for proper absorption of both nutrients.

Your family physician, obstetrician, gynecologist and pharmacist can help you understand your calcium needs and how to meet them. Be sure to talk to a professional before you add a supplement of any kind to your diet.

Jennifer Chancellor, MD, specializes in obstetrics, gynecology and women’s health at Wake Specialty Physicians – Women’s Center.


Non-dairy and low-dairy, calcium-rich foods and beverages
Product Calcium (mg) Percent of Daily Value
Sardines, canned, in oil, w/ bones, 3 ounces
25-38 percent
Milk, lactose reduced, 8 fluid ounces
29 percent
Orange juice, calcium fortified, 6 fluid ounces.
20-26 percent
Salmon, pink, canned, solids with bone, 3 ounces
18 percent
Pudding, chocolate, instant, made with 2% milk, 1/2 cup
15 percent
Tofu, firm, made with calcium sulfate only, 1/2 cup
20 percent
Tofu, soft, made with calcium sulfate only, 1/2 cup
14 percent
Spinach, cooked, 1/2 cup
12 percent
Cereal, calcium fortified, 1 cup
10-100 percent
Turnip greens, boiled, 1/2 cup
10 percent
Kale, cooked, 1 cup
9 percent
Soy beverage, calcium fortified, 8 fluid ounces
8-50 percent
Whole wheat bread, 1 slice
2 percent
Raw broccoli, 1/2 cup
2 percent


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