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Calcium is a mineral that typically must be obtained from the diet to maintain good health. Although many dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt are excellent sources of calcium, people with lactose intolerance or those subsisting on a non-dairy diet for other reasons might not be able to eat these foods. Some natural dairy-free sources of calcium can include leafy green vegetables, beans, and seafood. A variety of supplements is available over the counter to increase the calcium in the diet. Additionally, a number of food manufacturers supplement their products with calcium in an effort to appeal to consumers interested in maximizing their calcium intake.
Natural non-dairy sources of calcium can include leafy green vegetables, beans, and seafood. Examples of vegetables that are high in calcium include collard greens, spinach, turnip greens, kale, beet greens, and dandelion greens. Soybeans, white beans, and cowpeas are also rich in this mineral. Other non-dairy, plant-based sources of calcium include blackstrap molasses and okra.
A variety of different types of fish are also high in calcium. Often, small fishes that are eaten with their bones intact provide the highest amounts of this mineral. Sardines, for example, are rich in calcium. Other types of fish and shellfish including ocean perch, pink salmon, farmed rainbow trout and blue crab are also good sources of this mineral.
Calcium can also be found in vitamins or supplements. In patients with high calcium needs who are on a dairy-free diet, obtaining enough calcium through the diet can be difficult. Thus, vitamins serve as a healthy, cost-effective way to maximize intake of this important mineral. Supplements are available as pills that are taken by swallowing, chewable pills, or as powders than can be mixed into drinks. Often these supplements combine calcium with vitamin D because both of these compounds are important for maintaining strong bones.
Many fortified foods can also be good sources of calcium. A variety of manufacturers add calcium to pre-packaged food because they have noted that consumers are interested in getting more calcium in their diets. Many types of ready-to-eat breakfast cereals and instant oatmeal packets contain added calcium. Beverages such as soy milk and orange juice are often fortified with this important mineral. Although these products often feature labels advertising their calcium content, another way to determine the amount of calcium in a product is to look at its nutrition facts label.