I was hopeful when I initially came across the headline for a recent article in US News & World Report — “5 Non-Dairy Foods With Calcium”.
“Finally,” I thought, “a well-read magazine informing its readers that calcium is not a synonym for dairy.”
Then I started reading the story. And groaned. Repeatedly.
Much like their ridiculous “healthiest diets” article from last year (see my critique here), factual errors, misleading statements, and unhelpful information abound in this piece.
Below, the five worst tidbits that perpetuate incorrect information:
Roberta Anding, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association), says the advantage of plant-based calcium is that it ensures you’re eating lots of veggies—another important part of any diet.
The advantages of plant-based calcium go far beyond “eating lots of veggies”.
What is much more important to point out is that calcium-rich plant-based foods also offer other minerals crucial for bone health (such as vitamin K and manganese) which are absent in dairy. Dark-leafy greens also offer a superior calcium-to-magnesium ratio (half of all magnesium is stored in bones, so it is just as important as calcium for bone health) which ensures better absorption of both.
Avoiding dairy also comes with a warning. “There are compounds in plants that bind to calcium and prevent you from absorbing it,” Anding says. “Although they’re good sources of calcium on paper, physiologically, the amount of calcium is not so great. Dairy calcium is biologically available, meaning you absorb what’s in the product.”
There is absolutely no reason to raise red flags or heed warnings about going dairy-free.
The above quote is horribly misleading, as it suggests that only the calcium in dairy is biologically available. In reality, studies on calcium bioavailability have demonstrated that, from an absorption standpoint, kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, surpass milk.
“There are compounds in plants that bind to calcium and prevent you from absorbing it.”
Also misleading. Some calcium-rich plant foods, like spinach, are high in oxalates, compounds that inhibit the absorption of some minerals, including calcium. However, plenty of dark leafy greens high in calcium (i.e.: kale, broccoli rabe, collard greens) are very low in oxalates.
Nuts are an excellent source of calcium. One cup of Brazil nuts has 213 mg., and 1 cup of whole almonds has 378 mg., more than a cup of milk, which has 299 mg. Snacking on these throughout the day or eating almond butter (instead of peanut butter) in a sandwich at lunch can give you at least a quarter of your recommended daily calcium intake.
This is not helpful or practical advice; no one eats (or should eat) nuts by the cup. Additionally, two tablespoons of almond butter — a reasonable amount to slather on a sandwich — provide approximately nine percent of a day’s worth of calcium.
Rather than provide inflated serving sizes for nuts, the article should point out that some nuts offer a decent amount of calcium along with compounds (antioxidants, phytonutrients) and heart-healthy fats not available in milk. Looking at foods through a single-nutrient lens is reductive; almonds are much more than “a vegan source of calcium”.
Soymilk usually has between 200 and 500 mg. of calcium per cup.
Yes, but why single out soy milk? At this point, almost every commercial plant milk (i.e.: almond, coconut, flax, hazelnut, hemp, oat, rice, sunflower, and oat) is an excellent source of calcium.
For a much better read on dairy-free sources of calcium, I suggest this article by the Vegetarian Resource Group.