What’s the first food that comes to mind when you think about calcium? Most likely, it’s milk. It does a body good, right? Not always. If you’re one of the 30 to 50 million Americans who are lactose intolerant, you know that good things don’t happen when you consume milk or other dairy products.

A growing part of the population is turning away from dairy for other reasons as well ‐ whether they’re adopting a vegan diet due to animal rights or environmental concerns, or choosing to abstain from dairy for health reasons. Ample research suggests that cow’s milk is not ideal for human consumption. Consumption of dairy products has been linked to certain types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and even osteoporosis, even though conventional nutritional science teaches the opposite.

So if you don’t eat dairy, what should you do to protect your bone health? Not to worry — there are plenty of foods you can eat to get enough calcium in your diet, and other steps you can take to strengthen your bones. The recommended daily allowance for calcium is approximately 1,000 mg. Women should aim for closer to 1,2000 mg as they are more likely to develop osteoporosis.

  1. Avoid soft drinks and other acid-forming foods. Why would milk contribute to osteoporosis even though it contains calcium? The answer is acid. Many of the foods in the standard western diet — dairy, soft drinks, coffee, meat, bread, sugar — contribute to acid formation in the body. When too much acid builds up, the body responds by pulling mineral stores from the bones, which weakens them. To keep bones strong, reduce your intake of acid-forming foods, and make sure your diet contains plenty of alkaline foods, which include leafy greens like spinach and kale, and other green foods such as broccoli, celery, avocado, and cucumber.
  2. Eat your veggies. In addition to keeping the body’s pH balanced, vegetables also contain calcium. Include some form of plant foods in every meal, especially dark green leafy vegetables. Switch up the type of lettuce you use in your salads, and try adding baby kale to stir-fries and other meals. Get more tips for adding more greens to your diet.
  3. Eat nuts and seeds. Almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, and Brazil nuts are high in calcium, as well as other healthful properties like omega-3 fatty acids.
  4. Choose calcium-fortified foods. Many dairy alternatives, such as almond milk or rice milk, are fortified with calcium and contain as much as, if not more, calcium than cow’s milk. Other foods and beverages such as orange juice and breakfast cereals are also fortified with calcium.
  5. Get your vitamin D.> Calcium can only be absorbed by the body when vitamin D is also present. Many calcium-fortified foods also contain vitamin D for this reason. Other foods that provide vitamin D include fatty fish like tuna and salmon, beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks. But the best source of vitamin D is actually sunlight. When weather permits, get outdoors and get some sun! Sunscreen actually blocks this process, but you can get the vitamin D you need fairly quickly, especially in the summer. Expose your skin to the sun for only half the time it would take you to burn. If you are going to be in the sun longer, then use sunscreen.
  6. Take calcium supplements>. Food is always the best source of nutrients, but supplements can help you make up the difference if you aren’t getting what you need from your diet. Take a calcium supplement or a multivitamin that contains calcium. Look for one that contains vitamin D as well.

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