Bone Health … Dairy-free – The Food Sensitive Shopper

Calcium – how much is enough?


Here are the daily recommendations for calcium per age group according the the Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine (United States):

Ages 1 – 3          700 mg/day

Equal to approximately 1 1/2 cups of soy milk or 2 cups of rice milk with a packet of oatmeal

Ages 4 – 8        1000 mg/day

Equal to 2 cups of soy milk and a packet of oatmeal or 1 cup of enriched orange juice and 2 cups of rice milk

Ages 9 – 19       1300 mg/day

Equal to 2 cups of soy milk and a cup of enriched orange juice or 3 cups of rice milk and a cup of enriched orange juice

Adults need less than teens; approximately 1000 to 1200 per day.  Pregnant women need more; ask your obstetrician for recommendations.

How do you know how much calcium you are getting without tracking it?

Do you spread out the consumption of calcium throughout the day?

Are you familiar with the additional nutrients essential for good bone health?

 Today let’s learn more about bone health dairy-free.

Let’s start with supplements.  Unless they are doctor or nutritionist prescribed we do not recommend them because studies are now linking poor cardiovascular health with too much calcium, particularly supplements.  Even Dr. Yang on Grey’s Anatomy mentioned it on the show…I was pleasantly surprised.

We recommend a balanced approach with whole foods; even though you (or a loved one) are dairy-free.    The balance promotes long term good bone and hearth health.   Studies show that food based calcium doesn’t have as negative of an affect on heart health.  So put down those supplements and read on.

The Benefits of Calcium

1. Provides essential minerals for bones and teeth

  • Both calcium and phosphorus (mineral) combined are essential for bone formation and strong teeth.
  • The key to healthy bones lies in the balance of calcium concentration in the blood and bone.

2. Helps muscles contract and relax

  • The heart is a muscle that contracts and relaxes therefore adequate calcium helps our heart beat along with other muscle flexing and contracting functioning.

3. Aids in the proper functioning of your nerves and nervous system

  • Nerves are receptors that transmit messages to and from muscles, bones, and organs; think of them as our wiring to transmit physical feeling.  Calcium assists in the transmission function.

4. Plays an essential role with proper blood clotting

  • The blood needs to clot when there is an open wound.  Calcium assists in this function.

5.  Activates cellular enzymes

  • Our cells are made up of many parts and fluids.  Within each are enzymes which assist in various bodily functions including growth and development.  Calcium works with our body’s natural enzymes to create various functions we need for good health.


Dairy-free diets may be severely lacking in calcium

Beware of the consequences of long term calcium deficiency:

1. Weak bones

  • Children and teens who do not eat enough of this essential mineral each day are more likely to develop weaker bones; especially during later adulthood.
  • Lack of the recommended amount of calcium per day can result in not reaching a favorable peak bone mass.  This occurs after puberty.

2. Osteoporosis

  •  After our peak bone mass has been reached (approximately early 20’s to late 20’s) our bones very slowly lose density.  Osteoporosis is a result of greater bone density loss than normal.  A diagnosis of ‘osteopenia’ is an early condition signalling loss of bone density that can progress to osteoporosis.  Dietary management can help slow bone density loss and the progression that leads to osteoporosis.  Bottom line: Inadequate calcium throughout life can affect bone density.

3.  The body needs calcium for essential muscle and nerve function

  • According to the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health the lack of adequate calcium intake can lead to:  Symptoms of serious calcium deficiency include numbness and tingling in the fingers, convulsions, and abnormal heart rhythms that can lead to death if not corrected. These symptoms occur almost always in people with serious health problems or who are undergoing certain medical treatments.  Although these symptoms are for a severe calcium deficiency it is important to note.   To read more facts about the benefits of calcium go to:

You may not need more calcium instead you may be lacking in these essential nutrients…

Vitamin D – The sunshine vitamin

summer-flyer-1207261-m-120x126Studies have found that this essential vitamin helps our bodies absorb calcium and improve bone mineral density.  We can manufacture vitamin D from the sun however the amount that your body manufactures depends on age, time in the sun without sunscreen, angle of the sun, and your location on the globe.   Dairy products like cow’s milk are fortified with vitamin D.  The good news is so are many non-dairy alternative milk products (soy, rice, coconut, flax, and almond) and enriched orange juice.  Be sure to read the label of non-dairy alternative milks and orange juice to ensure that vitamin D is a part of your child’s daily diet.

To read more about the roles of calcium and vitamin D go to this website:

Want to learn more about the connection between sunshine and vitamin D?  Go to:

Vitamin K2 – Taxi !  Transport us (calcium and vitamin D) to the bones… pronto!

MP900177949-150x150Vitamin K2 is the third of a trifecta of essential bone building and strengthening vitamins (the other two are calcium and vitamin D) that are not as prevalent in the dairy-free diet unless you are careful to eat the proper foods that contain these vitamins and mineral.

When we eat calcium-rich food it is absorbed into the blood stream.  Vitamin K2 is the transport vitamin that moves calcium from the bloodstream to the bones.  Without this essential vitamin you can have too much calcium in your blood which leads to calcification of arteries hence cardiovascular disease.

Recently published studies have discovered how essential this once unknown vitamin is and why it is so important for bone health.  One recent study found that calcium along with vitamin K2 improved bone mineral density in children.  Here is a review of the study:

This vitamin comes from some surprising non-dairy sources – grass fed beef, pastured chicken, eggs from pastured chicken, and organ meats from pastured animals for examples.  If you are a vegetarian there is a soy product called ‘natto’ which is fermented soy that is a K2 powerhouse.  Also available is K2 as a supplement and is typically soy based.  Ask your local nutritionist about supplementation.   There are studies over the last few years emphasizing how the lack of this vitamin contributes to many age related diseases.  Want to learn more?  Read Dr. Kate Rheume-Bleue’s book ‘Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox’.   It is a compilation of her background in nutrition and all of the studies on K2,, vitamin D, and  calcium for bone health.  I loved the book.

Wait there’s more to strong bones than just food

girl-on-rollerskates-1397753-sFoods containing calcium and vitamins D and K that are dairy-free are just part of the puzzle for strengthening bones.  The combination of sunshine, fresh air, and exercise contributes to improved bone health and overall well-being.  Elementary aged children and pre-schoolers already go outside to play, jump, run, and more during recess. Letting your child go outside for 30 to 45 minutes each after school to jump, play and soak up some sunshine (weather permitting)  helps your child form healthy behaviors to carry into adulthood.  Sunscreen prevents absorption so for 30 minutes per day in the summer allow a sunscreen free outdoor play time or if your child has sensitive or very fair skin then break it up into 2 increments of 15 minutes.

Testing blood calcium level – why and why not?

Depending on the medical circumstances some children are tested to measure calcium levels in the body.  Two common tests for measuring calcium levels are; a blood draw and urine sample.  Typically the body contains a certain amount of calcium in the blood at all times.   The urine test measures how much calcium is lost through urination.   Neither test will give you a perfect illustration of how much calcium is in the body. We are not recommending that you, your child or teen are tested; only your physician can offer this advice.  If this is a procedure you feel is needed, before you call the physician go to this site for a detailed explanation on calcium testing and what the tests indicate:

Got help? Nutritional changes can be challenging

At Allergy Free Table we have just completed the first stage of a nutrition education program to promote healthy bones in children and teens who are dairy-free or are severely lacking in the essential bone building nutrients we discussed above.  Want to learn more about what dairy-free whole foods have calcium?  Do you need assistance to learn how you can create delicious dairy-free calcium-rich meals?  If you are interested in learning more or want to consult with us please send us an email at:

Want to help your tween or teen learn more about calcium?  Take our ‘Test your knowledge’ quiz.

In the mean time we hope you are enjoying the spring sunshine (vitamin D), getting plenty of fresh air and exercise with your family, and eating lots of calcium, vitamin D and vitamin K2 rich foods.


Category: Food

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