Got Milk? This ubiquitous advertising campaign for the dairy industry has been extolling the nutritional benefits of milk for twenty years. But for those of us that are unable, or unwilling  to drink milk it can seem, at first, impossible to find food-based replacements for those nutrients. I am here to tell you how it can be done, and it isn’t as daunting as it may seem at first.

Your family and friends may be predicting an inevitable future of osteoporosis for you now that you have taken dairy off your plate. However with careful planning, and mindful eating you may in fact be less prone to a fate of broken hips and slumped shoulders than your dairy eating friends. Studies have shown, counter to popular belief that dairy consumption does not in fact lead to a decrease in osteoporosis. Surprisingly, countries with the highest dairy consumption have the highest rates of hip fracture.

Now that you know drinking milk is not the nutritional savior that the Got Milk? campaign has led you to believe you may be thinking you are free to go on without worry. Not so fast! Just because dairy products aren’t the nutritional powerhouses you had previously been led to believe doesn’t mean you don’t need find alternate sources of the Calcium and vitamins they provide. You still need these vitamins and minerals to keep your body healthy and strong.

Finding alternate sources of these nutrients is not as difficult as you may think. Calcium is found in a variety of foods that are easy to find and prepare. You will need to be more conscious of your calcium intake now that you are ditching dairy but there is no need to feel deprived, in fact you may feel even more satisfied.

What exactly are those nutritional needs, and what foods can you eat to meet them?

Calcium: 1000 mg per day is recommended by the Institute of Medicine.  

Leafy green vegetables such as kale, collard greens, turnip greens, spinach and bok choy.

Are you saying to yourself “Salad, but I hate salad”? First, give them a chance, salad can be great and you can add all sorts of thing that you love to make them more palatable. These greens can also be cooked and added to some of your favorite dishes, or you can make a delicious non-dairy green smoothie. Recipes are easy to find that will appeal to all tastes.

Nuts, particularly almonds and sesame seeds.

 Almonds pack a 72mg punch in just a ¼ cup. Sprinkle them on your leafy green salad, or have a small handful as a mid afternoon snack. Natural almond butters are also a good source; just watch your portion size, you want to increase your calcium intake, not your waistline.

Sesame Seeds have a whopping 88 mg of calcium in just one tablespoon. It seems they aren’t just for decorating our hamburger buns! Yet another thing to add to your salad for a little crunch, or they make a nice addition to your cooked spinach. If you are looking to tahini paste (made from sesame seeds) as another calcium source, you’ll want to find one that is made from unhulled sesame seeds. If it is produced with hulled seeds the calcium content will be 90-95% less. This is not what you are looking for.

Beans: navy, soy, pinto, and garbanzo.

 Beans, beans the miracle fruit, the more you eat, the more you toot! Beans have a bad reputation when it is actually dairy that is the leading cause of excessive flatulence. If you start eating lots of beans, your body will adjust, and a little gas should not keep you away from this excellent source Calcium (and fiber!).

One can of beans may have 191 mg of calcium. These can easily be added to your soup, chili, pasta or salads. Garbanzo beans and tahini paste (use the unhulled version) can be made into hummus for a versatile dip or sandwich spread.

Canned salmon

With over 200 mg in ½ can this is an option that is inexpensive and has the added benefit of adding Omega 3’s to your diet. Make sure your salmon has the bones, as that is where you’ll find the calcium. Don’t worry, they are softened by the canning process, but if you are still turned off by the idea try this recipe for salmon cakes for a super nutritious dinner.


 Full of calcium, 300 mg in only seven filets it is also a great source of Omega 3s and Vitamin D. Add them to a Greek salad, or eat them straight out of the can for a snack.

Soy firm tofu, and fortified soymilk or yogurt.

Read the labels, not all soy products are created equal, but these products can be a great alternative to your favorite dairy items. For myself I don’t consume a lot of soy products pretending to be milk or cheese. That is, however, a personal choice based on flavor and texture. If you like them, they can be a great source of calcium, and will ease your transition to a dairy free diet.

Orange juice

Many orange juices are fortified with calcium and can be an easy alternative to that glass of milk in the morning. This is also an simple way to get calcium into kids who are hesitant to eat greens, beans and fish.

Blackstrap molasses

With 172 mg in one tablespoon this calcium powerhouse can be used as an alternative sweetener. Be aware though, a little goes a long way not only in nutrition but in flavor.

Vitamin D:  The recommendation is 600 IU per day for the average adult, there is however, some controversy about this figure and some say the Institute of Medicine should recommend 800-1000 IU for optimal bone health.

Sunlight: A 15-minute daily walk should do. But if you live in the north even this might not be enough.

Supplement: D3 supplements are inexpensive and a great alternative if you are concerned about sun exposure, or you live where I do and the sun is not always an accessible option.

B12: If you are like me and eat very little meat, or you are on a strict vegetarian or vegan diet you are not getting enough B12 in your diet. The best natural sources of B12 are animal products, so if you don’t eat meat, eggs or dairy you must take a supplement to avoid the symptoms of anemia, or even more troubling, permanent nerve damage. Pick up your B12 supplement along with D3 at your local drug store.

Exercise: If you are committed to eating healthy take the next step and move!

Walking, strength training, and yoga or tai chi will decrease your risk of osteoporosis, and make you feel stronger and healthier.

Decrease stress: Stress hormones deplete your calcium reserves. Yoga and tai chi would help here.

This may seem like a daunting list but once you incorporate these ingredients, supplements, and exercise in your daily life it will become second nature.


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