A very high source of calcium, dairy also provides protein and other minerals such as magnesium and potassium. Calcium is necessary for strengthening bones and teeth as well as many other vital roles in the body such as regulating heart function, blood clotting and muscle contraction/relaxation.
The dairy foods highest in these beneficial nutrients are milk, yoghurt, kefir and cheese. Good quality yoghurt and kefir also contain beneficial probiotics. Be mindful to check milk products and yoghurts for added sugar and choose cheeses that are lower in saturated fat and salt.
It’s best to keep other dairy products such as butter, cream, custard and ice-cream to a minimum as they are very high in unhealthy saturated fats and/or sugar without having significant nutritional benefits.
If you are unable to tolerate dairy products or choose not to eat them, it’s important to make sure you are getting enough calcium from other foods. Check the label on milk alternatives (such as almond milk or soy milk) to check if they have been fortified with added calcium - ideally choose one with at least 100mg calcium per 100mL.
Other non-dairy foods containing calcium include leafy green vegetables, tofu, tinned fish with bones, nuts and seeds.
Daily requirements depend on age and gender however as an example, most adults need about 1000mg per day.
Here are examples of how much calcium is in some common foods:
Yoghurt (200mL): 380mg
Firm tofu set with calcium salts (100g): 320mg
Milk (250mL): 300mg
Cheese (30g): 220mg
Green leafy vegetables (1 cup cooked): 130mg
Chickpeas (1 cup cooked): 80mg
Almonds (30 whole): 74mg
Dried figs (2 whole): 70mg
Sesame seeds, hulled (1 tablespoon): 66mg
Broccoli (1 cup cooked): 35mg
For more information on what the recommendations are for portions and daily intake from each of these food groups, visit the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating website at www.eatforhealth.gov.au.