8 Ways to Get Calcium Besides Drinking Milk

non dairy calcium
Photo credit: H Neal

“You don’t eat dairy? But how do you get your calcium?!”

I hear this refrain all the time, along with the old adage, “Drink your milk so you grow up big and strong!” I’m pretty sure all kids are told relentlessly by their parents to gulp down glass after glass of the creamy white stuff. I know I sure drank my fair share of milk growing up. My mom and I easily made a gallon of milk disappear in less than a week between the two of us.

I eventually stopped chugging milk like there was no tomorrow when I figured out how much it was upsetting my stomach. It wasn’t until later down the road that I started learning about some of the health problems dairy is linked to, like joint pain, autoimmune disease, disrupted hormone regulation, and even some cancers. As a dietitian, my recommendation to clients to cut down their milk consumption when they’re having stomach issues or other health concerns is often met with protests of “but how will I get the calcium I need?!”

It’s a good question. Calcium is an important mineral that many people don’t get enough of. It helps with bone strength, nerve transmission, and muscle contraction. Most adults typically need 1,000 mg of calcium per day. When talking about calcium intake, it’s also important to mention its partner in crime: vitamin D. Vitamin D helps aid the absorption of calcium so it can be better utilized in the body and gives you a better bang for your buck. Vitamin D is found in fatty fish like salmon, egg yolks, and fortified foods like orange juice, among other things. Exposure to the sun also helps your body convert vitamin D into a usable form.

So back to the milk and calcium thing. What if you don’t want to drink milk? Will your bones crumble to pieces before you consider yourself “old”? No! In fact, my bone density scores are better now that I don’t eat dairy than they were when I slammed back milk.

Put your worries aside and focus on these 8 ways to get calcium without drinking milk:

1. Greens

Load up kale, spinach, broccoli, bok choy, turnips, mustard, and other leafy greens for a good source of calcium. Recipes to try:

Sautéed spring greens

Sundried tomato and kale pasta

5 ways to eat your greens

2. Nuts

Walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and cashews are packed with calcium. That includes nut butters! Recipes to try:

Spiced hazelnut hummus

Coconut almond butter

Brown sugar black pepper almonds

3. Fish with bones

Fish with soft bones you can eat like canned salmon and sardines will help you meet your calcium quota. Don’t let “with bones” scare you. Recipes to try:

Sardine sandwich

Classic salmon salad

4. Beans

Mix up your calcium intake with chickpeas, black-eyed peas, or pinto beans. Recipes to try:

Kale pinto bean tacos

Mexican pinto beans

5. Figs

Calcium in fruit? Try figs and dried figs. Recipes to try:

Fresh figs with goat cheese and honey

Roasted figs with honey and hazelnuts

6. Molasses

Surprise! Even black strap molasses contains calcium. This isn’t an excuse to eat extra sugar, but it’s good to know it’s in there. Recipes to try:

Ginger molasses cookies

Apple spice muffins

Homemade BBQ sauce

7. Peas & lentils

Peas and lentils are a good source of calcium, too. Recipes to try:

Easy baked beans, barley, & lentils

Red lentil veggie burgers

Lentil loaf

8. Seeds

Sesame seeds and sunflower seeds contain calcium, too. Try tahini for an easy way to get a lot of sesame. Recipes to try:

Lemon pepper tahini broccoli

Cranberry pumpkin seed granola

Lemon sunflower pesto pasta


What’s your favorite non-dairy way to get calcium?


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