Whether you’re vegan, weight-conscious, lactose intolerant or milk adverse – whatever the reason your calcium intake is low, I can assure you that relying on broccoli and other green vegetables exclusively for maintaining bone health is a recipe for disaster. I’m not sure who is responsible for this myth, but it needs to stop.
Let me explain why…
Firstly, let’s talk about calcium requirements. Calcium requirements vary based on age and gender. Men between the ages 19 to 70 and women aged 19 to 50 need 1000mg of calcium per day. After the age of 51 for women, and for men above 70 years of age, calcium requirements increase to 1300mg per day. This need for higher amounts of calcium with age is due in part to changes in hormones (hello, menopause) and age-related increases in urinary calcium losses.
1000mg to 1300mg might sound like a lot, and you guessed it – it’s a fair bit of calcium to try and squeeze in each day. Especially when you consider the average quantity of calcium in foods.
Milk and other dairy products are typically what I, as a dietitian, would consider a “big ticket” item. For example, milk contains approximately 300mg of calcium per glass, offering a sizeable contribution to your daily calcium intake. Many milk alternatives such as SoGood and Vitasoy are fortified with calcium and offer a similar amount.
Tinned bony fish such as sardines and salmon can also offer a considerable amount of calcium as an alternative to dairy products contributing anywhere from 250 to 350mg per serve. Eating foods that are rich in calcium such as milk (and fortified alternatives), cheese, yoghurt and tinned bony fish, makes meeting requirements fairly achievable.
However, there is this growing misconception that your needs can be met almost exclusively with dark leafy green vegetables – and broccoli appears to have become the poster child. This is just not the case.
Whilst kale and spinach offer a reasonably decent amount at approximately 90mg per half a cup, broccoli contains a mere 25mg per half a cup. To achieve the recommended 1000 to 1300 mg of calcium per day through vegetables alone, would require you to eat some genuinely enormous volumes of broccoli and leafy green vegetables. It would involve consuming around 22 cups of spinach a day, or 82 cups of broccoli!
Whilst dietitians are always encouraging people to eat more vegetables – consuming this quantity would likely result in some pretty severe GI distress. Please don’t eat 22 cups of spinach or 82 cups of broccoli per day, it won’t end well.
When trying to improve your calcium intake focus on including a variety of calcium-rich foods in the diet, including a few big-ticket items such as cows milk, fortified milk alternatives, yoghurt, cheese and tinned bony fish. You can then further add variety and boost your intake by including vegetables, nuts and seeds and fruit.
If you need help working out how to meet your calcium intake through your diet, see one of our dietitians!