Does the food in this photo look like a good source of calcium? Well, there’s no milk, no cheese, no dollop of yogurt… but, as many are becoming more aware,  dairy is not the beginning and end of the world of calcium. The California Caviar recipe pictured here (from our Vegetarian cookbook) contains a few good non-dairy sources of calcium – can you identify them?

Most of us are shooting for about 1000 mg of calcium a day, and those in the know agree that most of that should come from food sources rather than a big horse-pill you choke down once a day (calcium is best absorbed in smaller amounts throughout the whole day).

An important note is that for good calcium absorption, you need to get enough vitamin D (via good ol’ sunshine or a supplement) and you should have a low phosphorous diet. That means the more soda you drink (high in phosphorous) the less calcium you will absorb. Same goes for milk (high in phosphorous) which is why dairy kind of works against itself in calcium absorption.

Here are some great calcium sources that might surprise you. Did you know about these?! The bonus is that these are also high in other nutrients and most are relatively lower in calories compared to milk, cheese, and yogurt. The numbers come from USDA references.

1.) Dark, leafy greens.  You’ve probably heard this one before. 1 ounce of kale has as much calcium as 1 ounce of milk, and studies show that the calcium in kale is better absorbed by your body. Also on this list are turnip greens, bok choy, dandelion greens, swiss chard, spinach, and beet greens (those dark leafy greens growing out of the top of those beets you bought at the farmer’s market? Don’t throw those out! That’s the best part). 8 oz of these dark leafy greens contains about 200-450 mg of calcium, with turnip greens at the top of the list! However, note that the latter three – swiss chard, spinach, and beet greens – also contain oxalates which interfere with calcium absorption, slightly reducing it.

My preparation of greens is pretty simple – chop, sauté in a little olive oil and garlic, add some salt and pepper, and add a squeeze of lemon or vinegar (the acidity takes away the bitterness of these types of greens). For a delicious soup, try Potato and Kale Soup.

2.) Broccoli and  Brussels sprouts.  One cup of broccoli has about 100 mg of calcium. Trader Joe’s has bagged florets to make it easy – just steam and enjoy. Brussels sprouts – my favorite since I was a kid. I would pretend I was a giant consuming a head of cabbage in one bite. If you think you don’t like Brussels sprouts, you’ve probably never had roasted Brussels sprouts. We also have a great Pan-toasted Brussels Sprouts recipe in our very first cookbook, “Cooking with All Things Trader Joe’s

Roasted brussels sprouts recipe cooking Trader Joes

3.) Edamame, tofu, and other soybean based items.  Trader Joe’s has steamed and shelled edamame, convenient for snacking or adding to salads, stir-fries, and other dishes like our Couscous Bowl. 1 cup of soybeans has about 300 mg of calcium.

4.) Seafood.  This is mostly canned fish where the bones are edible, like mackerel (1000 mg per cup!) and sardines (600 mg). My response to this is blech, GAG, blarg! Canned fish is simply not my cup of tea. But if it is yours, then hooray for your strong bones. Raw oysters (this I’m good with) pack about 300 mg per cup. One serving of peeled shrimp or langostinos is not too bad at 60 to 80 mg.

5.) Beans and peas. Black eyed peas score the highest here, but pinto, kidney, and black beans are runners up at 100-150 mg per cup.  Black Bean Soup is a favorite, and the dish pictured at the top is California Caviar, my west coast spin on the Texas classic.

6.) Nuts.  Those little snack packs of almonds at Trader Joe’s: 75 mg of calcium a pop. Not bad! Don’t forget about the bags of almond meal at Trader Joe’s. Here is a Lemon Ricotta Almond Cake made with it. You can even make a great pudding with it (again, book #1)

7.) Seeds.  Enjoy sunflower seeds and sesame seeds (tahini is pureed sesame seeds), both high in calcium. Trader Joe’s has Sunflower Seed Butter that tastes great and is an alternative for those with nut allergies.

Just a Handful Almonds Trader Joes

8.) Blackstrap molasses.  Add this old-fashioned sweetener to baked goods (goes really well with ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg) or glaze vegetables with it. It’s also an interesting variation on syrup for pancakes. Calcium? 200 mg per tablespoon!

9.) Calcium fortified almond milk, rice milk, soy milk.  All are high in calcium and a good alternative for those who are dairy-free. In my house we always have cow milk and almond milk and often hemp milk or rice milk, just for variety.

10.)  Grains, such as oats and wheat.  One 8-inch flour tortilla has about 60 mg of calcium and a corn tortilla has 40!  My Trader Joe’s Olive Oil Wheat tortillas have 80 mg of calcium indicated on the packaging.  I had no idea until I looked!  Quinoa is another favorite of ours, and 1 cup of cooked quinoa has about 80 mg.

Were there some surprises here for you?  Any I missed?  Fill me in!