I have never been a big fan of milk. I’ll have it in my cereal, or sometimes in my coffee, occassionally I’ll have some chocolate milk, but the thought of a tall cold glass of white milk kinda makes me shudder. So do I really have to drink it? No, not really, but calcium is an important nutrient, and if I don’t get enough it could lead to brittle bones or osteoporosis. If I can avoid those things, I’d like to. So How do I get the calcium I need without drinking milk?
Milk is indeed a good source of calcium, providing about 30% of the recommended daily value in 8 ounces, but there are a few foods that have milk beat in the calcium department. The same amount of non-fat plain yogurt provides 42%, a serving of sardines with bones and oil has 32%, and an ounce and a half of cheese contains 31%.
Okay, so I’ve never been brave enough to try sardines. I like yogurt, but eat it in spurts. Cheddar cheese I like a little too much, but I try to make an effort to cut back because while the calcium may be great the cholesterol isn’t. But what else is there?
Calcium fortified orange juice and tofu both provide about 20% of daily calcium. Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, turnip greens and kale all provide about 10%. Other cereals, and non-dairy milks are also commonly fortified with calcium. And of course there’s always things like pudding and ice cream.
But of course we can’t talk about calcium without at least mentioning it’s best bud– Vitamin D. Aside from foods, such as Vitamin D fortified milk, Vitamin D can be found in fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel. Eggs, cheese and mushrooms also contain the vitamin, although not as much. And of course there’s the sun. The skin makes Vitamin D when exposed to sunlight, although this is not a good option in the winter. In the Northern US the sun is not strong enough to make Vitamin D.
The other side of the calcium coin is absorption– which is why I brought in the Vitamin D sidenote. Vitamin D helps aid the absorption of calcium. But this is not the only factor. Oxalic acid, found naturally in spinach, collard greens, sweet potatoes, rhubarb, and beans. Research has shown that eating spinach and drinking milk at the same time depletes calcium aborption. Also things like excess sodium, caffeine, and alcohol also inhibit the absorbtion of calcium.
Aging is also calcium’s enemy. Calcium absorption is as high as 60% in infants and young children, but decreases to 15%-20% in adulthood and continues to decrease as people age. Milk or not, a calcium supplement is probably in order.