Non-dairy foods that prevent calcium deficiency

Calcium is essential not just for our bones and teeth, but also for our heart, muscles, nerves and blood. It is also one mineral that we generally do not get enough of. Dairy products are considered to be rich source of calcium, but there are many other foods that give you calcium as well. Come discover the foods that give you calcium.

Calcium is the first thing that pops into our head when we think of bone health. And why not! Most of the calcium in our body is stored in our bones. Calcium is the most abundant mineral present in the body. We rarely discuss calcium deficiency, but the fact is that a sizeable number of Indians have calcium deficiency that manifests into fractures and weak bones, and has other health implications. Do you know that we continue to lose calcium reserves as we age, and this can result in the weakening of our bones; that can eventually lead to osteoporosis? Calcium doesn't just make up your teeth and bones; the mineral also plays a significant role in maintaining cardiovascular health, keeps the nervous system ticking and helps with muscle function and lets the blood clot.

When the body doesn't receive enough calcium through diet, it begins to leach it from the body's storehouse, the bones, making them weak. This is why it is important to include calcium-rich foods in the diet, throughout our life, and not just when we are young.

Milk and dairy products are what we generally think of as calcium-rich foods. And the 'ingenious' among us include calcium supplements or calcium enriched foods to the list. The fact is that there are many other, equally rich, food sources of calcium, which we should be eating, in plentiful. Know that dairy is not the only option available to you.

Your daily dose of calcium

A tall glass of milk or a slice of cheese or a plate of 'paneer tikka' might seem like the only few choices you have to up your daily dose of calcium. That calcium comes from dairy products is so entrenched in our psyche that we fail to acknowledge other healthy sources of the mineral. A number of plant-based foods are a powerhouse of nutrients, including calcium. Vegetables like dark leafy greens, peas, broccoli, bok choy (Chinese cabbage), peas, green beans and ladyfinger have high calcium content. Flax seeds, legumes, sesame seeds, almonds, ragi and lentils provide copious amounts of calcium. Canned fish such as sardines, tuna, salmon and mackerel are good sources of calcium.

Calcium loss is a real concern

If you eat a variety of healthy foods, you probably get enough calcium. But, you could still be at a risk of not having enough, because of calcium loss. Calcium loss is a real problem; it occurs silently and can lead to serious health problems. Certain lifestyle habits prevent calcium absorption and cause the body to lose calcium through urine.

Individuals who consume/use excessive amounts of the following are at high-risk of calcium loss –

  • Sodium rich foods, such as processed and packaged foods
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine in coffee and cola drinks
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Nicotine (in cigarettes)
  • Drugs such as steroids/antibiotics/thyroid hormone
  • Antacids containing aluminium
  • Vitamin A supplements

Cut down your risk of calcium loss and eventual calcium deficiency by making smart choices and changes in your life. Reduce whatever that it is that you are doing wrong if you cannot cut it down altogether. Remember, every little positive lifestyle change, can take you that much closer to better health.

Vitamin D deficiency hampers calcium absorption

While most of us might ensure that we get enough calcium we might still be at risk of not having healthy reserves, as we fail to get enough Vitamin D. This vitamin is essential for calcium absorption. Not just that, vitamin D also reduces calcium loss through urine. The best source of vitamin D is sunlight. The skin absorbs sunlight and it gets converted into vitamin D. If you do not get enough sunlight, the chances of you suffering from Vitamin D deficiency are high. So, go get some sun, it is good for you.

Get moving

You need to work those bones to get the calcium to reach them. Sedentary lifestyles result in poor absorption of calcium by the bones. Becoming physically active, exercising regularly, swimming, playing sports, cycling, walking, weight and strength training help the bones to absorb the calcium, better.

Get some form of physical exercise.

Calcium content per 100 grams in common foods

Average adults need roughly 1000mg of calcium per day. As we cross fifty the body requirement of calcium goes up to 1200mg per day. Here is a look at calcium present in 100 gram servings of some common foods -

  • Khus khus seeds – 1438mg
  • Sesame (Til) seeds - 1000mg
  • Curry leaves – 830mg
  • Amarnath leaves – 530mg
  • Fenugreek greens – 395mg
  • Tofu – 350mg
  • Ragi – 344mg
  • Kala channa – 287mg
  • Soya beans – 277mg
  • Rajma – 260mg
  • Flax seeds – 255mg
  • Betal leaves – 230mg
  • Almonds – 230mg
  • Moth dal – 202mg
  • Cilantro leaves – 184mg
  • Urad dal – 154mg
  • Mung dal – 125mg

Ways to enhance calcium in your bones

The best way to boost calcium intake is to eat the right foods. Here is a look at non-dairy sources of calcium that should be on your plate –


Don't let their small size fool you. Seeds are actually nutritional powerhouses. All seeds are packed with oodles of goodness, and some of them have a high percentage of calcium present in them. For instance, two tbsps. of chia seeds provide around 20% of the daily requirement of calcium. Other seeds that qualify as calcium-rich foods are poppy seeds (khus khus) with one tbsp. meeting approx. 15% of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) and two tbsp. of sesame (til) seeds providing approx. 20% of the RDA. Ragi and flax seeds are also rich in the mineral.

Seeds are rich not just in calcium they also provide fibre and other vitamins and minerals essential for good health.

Canned fish

You might wonder, why tinned/canned fish? What's so special about them! The canning process makes the fish bones soft and edible, hence canned mackerel, salmon, tuna and sardines become an ounce healthier than the freshly cooked fish. A small helping of canned fish can give you as much as 35% of the RDA.

Most fish are also good sources of omega-3 fatty acids and protein. In addition, they are rich in minerals like selenium. This means they keep not just the bones but also keep the arteries clean and the heart healthy.

Lentils and beans

Rajma, kala chana, moth and mung dal are packed with protein, fibre and micronutrients essential for overall health. They boast of healthy amounts of minerals such as magnesium, zinc and potassium and some amount of calcium.

Interestingly, lentils and beans are also known to lower bad cholesterol levels and alleviate the risk of type 2 diabetes. Have them sprouted for better nutrition and digestion.


Nuts just like seeds are bursting with nutrients. Almonds are exceptionally rich in calcium. Eight to ten almonds deliver 8% of the RDA. Almonds and other nuts are high in fibre, protein, healthy fats and vitamin E. They are rich in manganese, potassium, zinc and magnesium.

Eating almonds and other nuts can lower LDL levels, promote heart health and reduce hypertension. In addition, they keep the bones strong and healthy.


Amaranth is recognised as a 'pseudocereal' with an exceptional nutrition quotient. Apart from the healthy amount of folate, it also has high amounts of minerals present in it, especially phosphorous, magnesium, manganese, zinc and iron and calcium. One cup of ready to eat amaranth grains can provide a little over 10% of calcium RDA.

Amaranth leaves are equally rich in nutrients, especially calcium, with a single cup of cooked leaves containing almost 30% of RDA for the mineral. The leaves are a good source of vitamin C & A and fibre.

Tofu & Edamame

Tofu is quite like 'paneer' in texture and can be substituted for most paneer dishes. It is made from Soybeans. A 200 grammes serving of tofu can provide nearly 85% of calcium to meet our daily requirement.

Edamame is the fresh green soybean pod. It can be steamed and served with salt and pepper. It is nutritious in many ways. A cup of edamame provides protein and enough folate to meet the daily requirement, and roughly 10% of calcium as per RDA.


Eat a variety of foods from all groups – vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds etcetera to increase your intake of calcium and other nutrients.

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Guest Author: career26 Apr 2017

A very interesting way of maintaining the calcium supply needed for daily requirement adopted by our ancestors was to chew betel. This betel chewing was without tobacco. The women in the family also chewed tender betel leaves. Of course it was taboo for unmarried youngsters and kids. A couple of tender (preferably home grown) betel leaves were washed and smeared by 'Choona' or white lime in a very thin layer. Then areca nut pieces preferably home made or the sweetened and scented variety is added and the leaves are folded and put into mouth and slowly chewed in. The chuna smear should be thin and mild, otherwise it may affect our tongue.

The betel-chuna-areca will be kept ready for the guests after dinner in all functions. This took care of the digestion as well as the calcium deficiency in those days.

Guest Author: Divyesh26 Apr 2017

With modernisation, many traditional practices have been lost. People adopt the modern culture and forget their age-old customs.

I did not know the benefits of betel leaves aka 'pan'. In many societies chewing betel leaves was looked down upon. There have also been many advisories against the use of 'chunna' and the chewing of betel nuts. They have been advocated as being detrimental to health. Lime or 'chunna' is known to cause cancer, which may be another reason for the custom of chewing betel leaves is not so prevalent in society today and is only practised during special occasions.

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