The dairy industry pours millions of dollars every year into campaigns like “Got Milk?” to convince consumers that we need several servings of their product every single day to keep our bones healthy. What they’d rather not talk about is that milk isn’t necessarily the best source of calcium, especially if your goal is maintaining bone health.
Calcium is critical to bone health, but it’s not the only player when it comes to preventing osteoporosis. Along with sufficient calcium, you also need magnesium and vitamin D for healthy bones.
Along with getting the right balance of calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D, exercise is critical to bone health, especially weight-bearing exercise like running, lifting weights, or walking. Exercises like cycling and swimming are great for your overall health, but they don’t improve or maintain bone density.
Too much calcium in your diet can actually inhibit magnesium absorption. That’s one of the reasons that Americans have such high rates of osteoporosis, despite also having such high rates of dairy consumption. That means that when you eat dairy, the effects on magnesium absorption are likely cancelling out much of the bone health benefit that you’re going for.
Related Reading: 25 Vegan Sources for Calcium
There are some other reasons that dairy might not be the ideal source for your daily calcium. Dairy products tend to be high in saturated fat and cholesterol, so you might be trading bone health for heart disease. Increased intake of dairy has also been linked to a higher risk for ovarian cancer in women and prostate cancer in men.
That doesn’t mean you have to give up dairy entirely if you don’t want to, but it does mean that if you’re drinking 3 glasses of milk a day to protect your bones, you might want to think about replacing some of that dairy with plant-based sources of calcium that contain more magnesium.
On the next page, check out the wide variety of plant-based calcium and magnesium sources!
Plant-Based Sources of Calcium and Magnesium
When you tell folks that you don’t eat dairy or even that you don’t eat dairy for calcium, they’re probably going to want to know what you eat to keep your bones healthy. Depending on your age, you have different calcium requirements; the average human adult should be getting around 2500mg of calcium per day and between 320 and 420mg of magnesium.
Here are some calcium- and magnesium-rich, plant-based foods:
- Almonds (1 oz) – 80mg magnesium, 89mg calcium
- Cashews (1 oz) – 79mg magnesium, 13mg calcium
- Edamame (1/2 cup, shelled) – 74mg magnesium, 98mg calcium
- Wheat Bran (1/4 cup) – 89mg magnesium, 10mg calcium
- Oatmeal (1 cup) – 61 mg magnesium, 99mg calcium
- Peanut Butter (2 tablespoons) – 49mg magnesium, 14mg calcium
- Kale (1 cup) – 23mg magnesium, 94mg calcium
Related Reading: Superfood: 10 Tasty Kale Recipes
- Collard Greens (1 cup) – 38mg magnesium, 266mg calcium
- Bok Choy (1 cup) – 19mg magnesium, 158mg calcium
- Cabbage (1 cup) – 136mg magnesium, 427mg calcium
- Broccoli (1 cup) – 33mg magnesium, 62mg calcium
- Flax Meal (2 tablespoons) – 110mg magnesium, 71mg calcium
- Quinoa (1 cup) – 118mg magnesium, 32 mg calcium
Related Reading: Superfood: 10 Quinoa Recipes
- Firm Tofu (1/2 cup) – 47 mg magnesium, 253mg calcium
- Wakame (1 cup) – 88 mg magnesium, 120mg calcium
- Brazil Nuts (1 oz) – 106mg magnesium, 45mg calcium
- Turnip Greens (1 cup) – 23mg magnesium, 138 mg calcium
- Swiss Chard (1 cup) – 150mg magnesium, 101mg calcium
- Black Beans (1 cup) – 120mg magnesium, 46mg calcium
- Baked Potato (1 large) – 84mg magnesium, 45mg calcium
As you can see, if you’re eating a nice variety of whole grains, nuts, leafy greens, legumes, and even potatoes, chances are your bones are doing just fine. Do you eat dairy to maintain healthy bones? What do you think about the possible downsides to a dairy-rich diet?