Calcium is one of the most important minerals for our bodies and is required for muscle and nerve functions. Diet is the best way to get calcium yet don’t think of only dairy food sources for your calcium intake. There are many options that perhaps you aren’t aware of!

The Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies have recommended that men and women get between 1,000 and 1,300 mg of calcium per day, depending on age. If you don’t get enough calcium, adults may have low bone mass which is a risk factor for osteoporosis. Make it a point to reach your recommended daily intake of calcium.  To be successful in this, here are some non-dairy sources of calcium that you may not be aware of.  Here is a list of great choices to include in your daily diet:

• Dark leafy greens like spinach, broccoli, okra, kale and collard greens are high in calcium. One cup of cooked collard greens has 26 mg – a quarter of the amount you need in a day. Try to add green to every meal and you’ll be healthier for it!

• Chia seeds are tiny yet they are a powerhouse of nutrients! They are among the healthiest foods on the planet. An ounce of chia seeds have 18% of the RDI. They are great sprinkled on oatmeal, cereal, yogurt, vegetables, rice, salads and shakes. Note that they can become gel like and thicken when mixed with water.

• Fennel has a licorice-like flavor with a great crunch like celery. Fennel can be added to salads or eaten alone and all parts of the vegetable are edible (bulb, stalk, leaves, seeds). A cup of fennel has 43 mg of sodium.

• Canned sardines and canned salmon are both loaded with calcium thanks to their edible bones. A 3.75-ounce can of sardines packs 35% of the RDI and 3-ounces of canned salmon with bones has 21% RDI.

• Sesame seeds and flax seeds are great options to sprinkle on foods also. Unhulled sesame seeds are especially rich in calcium. These can be sprinkled on so many food choices!

• Tahini is a butter made from hulled, ground and toasted sesame seeds. It is high in calories so it should be eaten in moderation. A tablespoon provides almost 23 mg of calcium. Tahini is a major ingredient in hummus (chickpeas) and baba ghanoush (eggplant).

• Treat yourself to a handful of almonds or Brazil nuts a day! About 22 of these nuts deliver about 8% of the RDI.

• Blackstrap molasses is a thick syrup. Molasses products are becoming more available at markets and blackstrap molasses is commonly used as a natural sweetener and a sugar alternative. It can be used in coffee as a sweetener and used as a spread or topping. Baking with blackstrap molasses can replace brown sugar or maple syrup. 100 grams of blackstrap molasses provides 20% of recommended daily calcium amount.

• Hemp milk is the top dairy milk alternative for calcium content with an 8 ounce serving supplying 45% of the RDI. It is made from seeds of the hemp plant.

• Dried figs have more calcium than any other dried fruit with 5% of the RDI in one ounce. They are packed with fiber and antioxidants.

• White beans and winged beans are low-fat and high in calcium. A cup of cooked wing beans has 24% of the RDI and a cup on white beans has 13% of the RDI. These beans can be incorporated into many recipes – soups, chili, salads and stir-fry.

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