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Getting Enough Calcium when you Can't have Dairy Products
Calcium is an essential nutrient for our bodies and most people get their calcium from dairy. A lot of dairy has even been fortified with Vitamin D - which helps our bodies absorb calcium. Our bodies need calcium for muscle contraction, blood clotting and nerve function. Our bones have calcium in them, so if we don't get enough calcium in our diets to meet the needs of our bodies, we start pulling calcium from our bones. This can cause osteoporosis, weakened bones resulting in frequent breaks and rickets (not as common now as in the past).
So what do you do if you can't have dairy? My daughter is allergic to all dairy products and making sure she gets enough calcium in her body is essential. Some people choose not to eat dairy and they too need to find other ways to get calcium. The average man and woman should consume 1000 mg of calcium if you are between the ages of 19 and 50 and 1200 mg if you are 51 or older. Young children don't need as much and teenagers need the most, requiring 1300 mg a day. Most people do not get enough calcium; especially children and teens because soda and juice are so prevalent in our culture and have replaced milk at many meals.
Here are some ideas of foods that are high in calcium. High levels of calcium are found in dairy, leafy greens and soybeans. This is a good place to start. Soy milk and soy yogurt both contain a lot of calcium. Spinach in particular is high in calcium. One tip to remember is the darker green the leaf the better it is for you. Beans and oats both are good sources of calcium, with a 3/4 cup portion of white beans providing 120 mg of calcium. A half a cup of cabbage contains 190 mg of calcium while tofu provides our body with 350 mg.
One of the ways I get more calcium into my daughter is to have her drink calcium fortified orange juice. When rickets was a huge problem in the United States the USDA started requiring certain foods to be fortified. Many foods such as OJ and cereal are fortified with calcium and this really helps all people, but especially people that can't consume dairy products. Nuts are another great source of calcium and fortunately my daughter likes them. A 1/4 cup serving of almonds provides her with 93 mg of calcium.
The last time I took my daughter to the doctor I asked about a calcium supplement. He said she didn't need a fancy supplement, but just to give her a Tums tablet each day. Did you know Tums is fortified with calcium too? So even though my daughter can't have dairy she gets her minimum calcium requirement each day. Whether you can't eat dairy, choose not to, or simply don't like the taste, there are plenty of other ways to provide your body with its needed calcium.