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Bone and Joint Health

Bone Health: No Milk? No Problem!

There are plenty of other foods you can include to make sure you get enough calcium each day.  
Written by the Theralogix team of Registered Dietitians
Many people will tell you that you just need to drink milk. But that holds only a hint of truth. Milk is rich in calcium, one of the most well-known nutrients for bone health, but it’s not your only option.

You started investing when you were just a child – in your bone health, that is.  

During childhood and adolescence, your body builds more bone than it loses. Think of it like a bone bank – you’re making more deposits than withdrawals, building bigger and stronger bones. Bone mass peaks for most individuals in their late twenties. As you continue to age, you gradually lose bone mass, making more withdrawals and fewer deposits. So, the more you’re able to deposit into your bone bank during your youth, the longer it will last during adulthood.  

Even if you’re past your prime bone-building years, it’s still important to make as many deposits to your bone bank as possible to maintain healthy bone strength. How? Many people will tell you that you just need to drink milk. But that holds only a hint of truth. Milk is rich in calcium, one of the most well-known nutrients for bone health, but it’s not your only option.  

Find out why calcium is important and how you can meet your calcium needs every day (even if you don’t drink milk).  

Why is calcium important?  

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the human body – and for good reason. Your heart, muscles, and nerves need calcium to function properly.  

Of course, calcium is most recognized for its role in bone health. Almost all the calcium in your body is stored in your bones and teeth, contributing to their structure and strength. Because calcium has so many responsibilities, your body has to prioritize them to make sure the most critical tasks are always completed. Your body decides that you don’t need strong bones to survive, but you do need your heart to beat, your muscles to move, and your nerves to transmit messages throughout your body. So, if you don’t get enough calcium from your diet, your body will borrow from your bones to make sure everything else continues to function properly.  

Most adults need about 1,000-1,200 mg of calcium per day, depending on age and gender.  

Do you have to drink milk to get enough calcium?  

Absolutely not. While milk is one of the best sources of calcium and contains other important nutrients for bone health, like vitamin D and phosphorus, there are plenty of other foods you can include to make sure you get enough calcium each day.  

What other foods are high in calcium?  

1. Other Dairy Products

Cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese – there are so many other calcium-rich dairy products you can include even if you don’t drink milk.  

Bonus: dairy products are a great source of protein. One single-serving container (usually 5.3 ounces) of Greek yogurt contains 10-15 grams of protein. Pair with fruit and nuts to kickstart your day with a protein-packed parfait, or mix with nut butter and honey to whip up a tasty fruit dip for dessert.  

2. Sardines and canned salmon

These varieties of fish have soft, edible bones. Most calcium is stored in the bones, so it makes sense that they would be an excellent source of calcium.  

Sardines and salmon are also great sources of omega-3 fatty acids to help support joint, eye, heart, and immune health. Keep these pantry staples on hand to top pizza, salads, toast, and more.  

3. Legumes

Beans and lentils are well-known members of the legume family. They pack a healthy dose of plant-based protein and fiber, and varieties like chickpeas, white beans, and soybeans are also great sources of calcium. 

4. Tofu

Tofu is a plant-based protein made from soybeans. Tofu starts as soymilk, similar to the way cheese starts as milk. A coagulant is added to the soymilk to form curds and whey, and then the curds are pressed to reach the desired firmness of tofu. The coagulant is the key to calcium content – varieties prepared with calcium sulfate tend to have the highest amount of calcium.  

The best part about tofu: it’s versatile and takes on any flavor you like, making it the perfect protein for any meal. If you’ve never tried tofu, here are a few recipes to get you started and boost your kitchen confidence.  

5. Leafy greens

Calcium-rich greens include kale, collard greens, and Bok choy. Enjoy a massaged kale salad for lunch, fill dumplings with Bok choy and other veggies, or sauté collard greens with lemon juice as a quick dinner side.  

Spinach is also high in calcium, but don’t rely on it too heavily to meet your calcium needs. This leafy green is also high in oxalate, which binds to calcium and makes it less available for your body to use.  

6. Nuts and seeds

Almonds contain the most calcium of all nuts, but walnuts and hazelnuts aren’t too far behind. Pair a small handful of nuts with fruit for a fiber-filled, energy-boosting afternoon snack.   

Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, and chia seeds all pack a calcium punch, too. Sprinkle poppy seeds on your salads, top your stir-fry with sesame seeds, or make a simple three-ingredient pudding with chia seeds, honey, and your milk of choice.  

7. Fortified foods

While almonds and soybeans are both naturally high in calcium, almond milk and soy milk aren’t. Luckily, most plant-based milks are fortified with calcium to make them a more equivalent alternative to dairy milk.  

Some varieties of cereal and orange juice are also fortified with calcium. Check the nutrition facts label and the ingredient list to find out if your product is fortified with calcium.  

What if you aren’t able to get enough calcium from your diet?  

With such a wide variety of calcium foods available, many people can meet the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for calcium through their diet. Use this calcium calculator to find out whether you’re getting enough calcium on a daily basis. If you struggle to meet your calcium needs through diet alone, a high-quality calcium supplement may be beneficial. Discuss with your healthcare provider to determine how much supplemental calcium is right for you. 

As with any investment, the earlier you start, the better. But it’s never too late. Include a variety of calcium-rich foods in your diet and aim for 1,000-1,200 mg of calcium per day to maintain healthy bones throughout your adult life. If you consistently fall short of your daily goal, consider a high-quality calcium supplement to help fill in the gaps.  

And remember – although calcium generates the most buzz for bone health, it’s not the only nutrient you need to support healthy bones. Adequate calcium and vitamin D throughout life, as part of a well-balanced diet, may reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Interested in learning more? Check out this blog next: “Bone Health: How to Get the Nutrients You Need.” 

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