“I don’t drink cow’s milk; am I getting enough calcium?” I get asked this question a lot, especially in recent years as more people are trying out dairy alternatives, such as almond milk. Let’s explore this nutrient a little further.
WHY IS CALCIUM NECESSARY?
Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and is responsible for bone health, muscle contraction, regulating blood pressure, blood clotting, nerve transition, and hormone production and secretion. Your growing baby is going to take all the calcium he needs for a healthy skeletal system, which may leave your body lacking in calcium.
HOW MUCH CALCIUM DO WE NEED?
The Recommended Dietary Allowance for calcium for pregnant persons is 1000mg per day.
When looking at a food label, calcium is expressed as a percentage on the bottom of the Nutrition Facts Label. To figure out how many mg of calcium is in the food, multiply the percentage by 10. For example, if the label states “Calcium…..9%”, you would multiply 9 x 10 = 90 mg calcium. I have said in previous posts that I do not like to turn nutrition into a bunch of calculations, so don’t get crazy about calculating calcium. Instead, use this information to compare foods and learn which foods are higher in calcium than others.
FOOD IS BETTER THAN SUPPLEMENTS
It is best to get your calcium from food because: 1. Foods (specifically plants) contain a natural form of Calcium that is readily absorbed by the body and 2. There are other nutrients in food that work together with Calcium for maximum efficiency. Calcium comes in different forms-some foods naturally contain calcium and some foods have calcium added. Following is a list of non-dairy foods and beverages that are a good natural sources of calcium (list is not all-inclusive):
Colorful Carbs with calcium
Kale (raw) 1cup 90mg
Orange 1 medium 60mg
Collards (cooked) 1 cup 266mg (keep in mind, you need about 4c raw to make 1c cooked)
Dried figs 8 figs 107mg
Broccoli (cooked) 1cup 180mg
Seaweed (raw) 1cup 126mg
Healthy fats with calcium
Almonds 1/4 cup 94mg
Almond butter 2T 111mg
Sesame seeds 1T 88mg
Protein with calcium
Black Beans 1 cup 84mg
Soy beans (edamame) 1/2 cup 88mg
Canned salmon (with bones) 1/2 can 232mg
Sardines 7 filets 321mg
Black eyed peas 1cup 211mg
White Beans 1/2cup 100mg
Blackstrap Molasses 1T 90mg
The following non-dairy foods/beverages are fortified with calcium, which means the calcium is not as well absorbed, but can still contribute to your overall calcium intake:
Fortified Soy Milk 1cup 300mg
Tofu (calcium-set) 1/4 block 200mg
Fortified OJ 1cup 300mg
Instant Oatmeal 1pkt 105mg
OTHER FACTORS THAT AFFECT CALCIUM
Some factors may increase the amount of calcium our body loses. Avoid these to avoid calcium loss:
- Excessive protein intake from animal products
- Diets high in Sodium
- Excessive caffeine intake
Some factors can help keep calcium in the bone. Increase these to improve your calcium stores:
- Vitamin D – helps in increase absorption of calcium
- Exercise – yoga, brisk walking, swimming, and light weight lifting can help improve bone health.
BOTTOM LINE ABOUT CALCIUM INTAKE IN PREGNANCY
Everyday, we need to be eating a variety of protein sources (including legumes), colorful carbs, and healthy fats (especially almonds) in order to get the amount of calcium we need for our own body to maintain calcium levels and to support the healthy growth of our babies in utero. We need to limit processed foods. We must exercise! And we must get outside and enjoy the sunshine (when it is smiling down on us)!
Sarah Rawitzer, RDN, LD, CD(DONA)