12 Calcium-Rich Alternatives to Milk

Trinh Le, MPH, RD
by Trinh Le, MPH, RD
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12 Calcium-Rich Alternatives to Milk

We’ve been taught from a young age that milk, and its calcium content, is essential for building strong bones. As adults, we may have stopped growing vertically, but calcium is still important for maintaining healthy bones. While tipping two tall glasses of milk gives you enough calcium for the day, for some of us, this is just not possible. Why?

  • Lactose Intolerance: People with lactose intolerance lack adequate lactase—an enzyme that digests lactose, a milk sugar. Many tend to develop this common intolerance as they age. With less lactase, lactose remains trapped in the gut with our gut bacteria. The bacteria digests this lactose and releases gas, causing uncomfortable cramps, gurgles and the runs.
  • Milk Protein Allergies: True milk protein allergies are less common than lactose intolerance, but certainly more severe. Someone with this allergy cannot eat casein, whey or both, and must be cautious that his or her diet doesn’t contain any traces of milk.
  • Personal Preference: For some, including vegans, consuming animal products is just not desirable.

Cow’s milk provides 300 milligrams of calcium per 1 cup serving, meeting anywhere from 20 to 30% of your daily needs. Calcium needs vary with age, but keep in mind that adults need about 1,000 milligrams per day, adolescents need 1,300 milligrams per day, and older adults (age 71+) need 1,200 milligrams/day. It’s tough to top cow’s milk from a calcium standpoint, but if you’re lactose intolerant, aged cheese and yogurt could be your go-to option. Because of the way these two foods are made, the bacteria in these products will have digested much of the lactose for you.

For vegans and those with milk protein allergies, let’s think outside the cow’s milk carton:

1. Non-Dairy Milk is quite trendy these days, with almond, rice and soy milk debuting near the dairy aisle. While they may not initially be calcium-rich, milk alternatives are often fortified. Look for “calcium-fortified” varieties because these will give you similar levels of calcium compared to cow’s milk. Whatever your food preference, you can find a milk alternative for it.

MILK ALTERNATIVES (per 1 cup serving)
Food Calcium Calories %DV*
Almond milk, calcium fortified 451 90 45%
Soy milk, calcium fortified 299 80 30%
Rice milk, calcium fortified 283 113 28%

*%Daily Value is based on needs of 1,000 milligrams/day.

2. Tofu (Serving: ½ cup | Calories: 94, Calcium: 434 mg, %DV: 43%)
Tofu is made by extracting protein from soy milk, and is used as a popular meat substitute among vegetarians and vegans. With tofu, you’re getting calcium plus lean protein. Tofu made with calcium sulfate is the most calcium-rich. To get you cooking with tofu, here are two delicious recipes for fried rice and huevos rancheros.

3. Tempeh (Serving: ½ cup | Calories: 160, Calcium: 92 mg, %DV: 9%)
This fermented food is made of soybeans bound into a thick cake. You’ll get a dose of fiber along with calcium and protein from this less well-known meat substitute. If you have an adventurous palate, check it out!

4. Edamame (Serving: 1 cup | Calories: 189, Calcium: 98 mg, %DV: 10%)
These “green soybeans” are a popular appetizer in sushi restaurants, and are a good source of calcium that you can purchase frozen at the store. Toss them into a quick stir-fry dish or reheat with a dash of salt for a calcium-rich snack.

Food Calcium Calories %DV
Tofu, prepared with calcium (½ cup) 434 94 45%
Soy milk, calcium fortified 299 80 43%
Tempeh (½ cup) 92 160 9%
Edamame (1 cup) 98 189 10%

5. Collard Greens (Serving: 1 cup cooked | Calories: 63, Calcium: 268 mg, %DV: 27%)
Cooked collard greens are a good source of calcium, providing 268 mg in a 1 cup serving. This leafy vegetable is mild in flavor and can also be used as a gluten-free, low-carb wrap.

6. Spinach (Serving: 1 cup cooked | Calories: 41, Calcium: 245 mg, %DV: 25%)
Spinach packs a surprising calcium punch, delivering 241 mg in just a ½ cup cooked portion. Lucky for you, it’s also a versatile vegetable to cook with. Try this tasty recipe for black bean spinach quesadillas.

7. Okra (Serving: 1 cup cooked | Calories: 35, Calcium: 123 mg, %DV: 12%)
Okra is high in fiber, low in calories, and packs plenty of vitamins and minerals, including calcium. To cut down on its slick texture, use an acid (lemon, lime or vinegar) in your seasoning. Check out this recipe for oven-fried okra—it’s a great substitute for fries.

8. Broccoli (Serving: 1 cup cooked | Calories: 55, Calcium: 62 mg, %DV: 6%)
There are many good reasons to eat broccoli, and now you have one more. Broccoli supplies a decent amount of calcium, and it’s easy enough to cook broccoli (you can even microwave it!), so try your hand at this broccoli salad.

9. Arugula (Serving: 1 cup raw | Calories: 5, Calcium: 32 mg, %DV: 3%)
This salad green has a spicy kick, and at 5 calories per serving, packs a mini calcium punch. Sub arugula salad in place of recipes that use blander cousins like romaine and iceberg lettuce.

Food Calcium Calories %DV
Collards, cooked (1 cup) 268 63 27%
Spinach, cooked (1 cup) 245 41 25%
Okra, cooked (1 cup) 123 35 12%
Broccoli, cooked (1 cup) 62 55 6%
Arugula (1 cup) 32 5 3%

10. Canned Fish
Canned fish is a great calcium-rich option: It’s lean, inexpensive, and gives you protein to boot. Purchase them when possible with the bones possible since this is where most of calcium is found. You can use canned fish to add flavor to sauces, or shape them into high-protein burger patties.

CANNED FISH (per 3 ounce serving)
Food Calcium Calories %DV
Sardines, canned with bones 216 166 22%
Mackerel, canned without bones 205 133 21%
Salmon, canned with bones 181 118 18%

11. Dried Figs (Serving: ½ cup | Calories: 186, Calcium: 150 mg, %DV: 15%)
Dried figs are sweet, delectable and available year round. They’re an adequate source of calcium as a snack, but really watch the serving size because you’ll have to eat 371 calories worth of figs to get the same calcium as a cup of milk.

12. Fortified Orange Juice (Serving: 1 cup | Calories: 117, Calcium: 300 mg, %DV: 30%)
Fortified orange juice is another beverage option for you to get your calcium. Just be mindful of the high sugar content in juice.

Food Calcium Calories %DV
Figs, dried (1 cup) 300 371 15%
Orange juice, fortified (1 cup) 300 117 30%

How do you get your calcium? Share your thoughts below.

About the Author

Trinh Le, MPH, RD
Trinh Le, MPH, RD
Trinh is a registered dietitian by day, blogger at Fearless Food RD by night. She loves helping folks develop a better relationship with food, which includes lots of cooking, eating and learning about nutrition. When she’s not snapping mouthwatering shots of (mostly) healthy food, you can find Trinh HIIT-ing it at her local gym. For more, connect with her on FacebookInstagram and Pinterest.


13 responses to “12 Calcium-Rich Alternatives to Milk”

  1. Avatar Becky Palsgrove says:

    I don’t see a link to recipes in the text; I’m especially interested in the oven-fried okra. Could you please link to these so I can try some more of the great ideas you’ve shared here? Thank you! And these are all great suggestions, by the way. I especially love tinned fish on days when I don’t have any leftovers for lunch and I’m tired of eggs.

  2. Avatar mashaltail says:

    Great article! I do not eat or drink dairy so this article is very interesting. Thanks!

  3. Avatar Sophie says:

    Awesome article. I don’t have dairy as I get really bad cold sores when I do have it. This article is really helpful, thank you.

  4. Avatar LINIA says:

    Has anyone else read that Spinach, while calcium rich, should not be included because the calcium in spinach is not bio-available to the human body?

  5. Avatar Cherry says:

    I like the support towards vegans!!

  6. Avatar sewnaomi says:

    I have had the milk protein allergy since puberty (years ago). It also includes egg and chocolate protein because they’re similar. I eat fish bones, ground sea shells, lots of calcium rich vegetables, and small amounts of enriched soy products for calcium. It is nice to have new foods to try. The yogurt in the oats would cause my throat to swell but I’ll try the others. Thanks.

  7. Avatar Tina J says:

    I think the figures in this article regarding the amount of calcium in cows milk is very misleading. Although you will be consuming that amount of calcium with dairy products, actually the body uses up more calcium than it contains in neutralising the acidity caused by digesting dairy products, resulting in a net loss of calcium when eating dairy foods. This means that in practical terms dairy products are reducing the amount of calcium available to maintain healthy bones – something the dairy industry somehow manage to keep quiet!

  8. Avatar majeff says:

    Your articles are just too long period. Way to much information. Edit. Edit. Edit. please

  9. Avatar Erin says:

    I’m really glad collards are finally getting some recognition about their calcium content, and what most people don’t know is the calcium in collard greens are better absorbed than the calcium in dairy. On the other hand, I’m still constantly surprised about the lack of knowledge regarding the calcium in spinach. While there is a lot of calcium in spinach, this calcium cannot be absorbed because it is bound to the oxalate in spinach, so you can’t exactly call spinach a good source of calcium.

  10. Avatar teresadenemy says:

    what about kale?

  11. Avatar Janet Coe Bolton says:

    Another non cow’s milk option is goat milk. There are also yogurt, kefir and cheeses made from goat milk.

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