Calcium Rich Foods

Osteoporosis prevention and treatment
with Calcium Rich Foods

You might ignore all other calcium rich foods, but the milk marketers nailed it for their own “brand recognition.” Like it or not, one of the most memorable ad campaigns of recent years has been the milk mustache and the “got milk?” slogan. Forgetting that there are many other calcium rich foods besides milk was one of the possible outcomes of that campaign, along with countless spoofs and take-offs on the mustache and the “got….fill in the blank?” idea.

So should we all be drinking our milk for osteoporosis treatment and prevention, or is milk and osteoporosis a combination best left alone? Whatever you conclude about milk, I want you to leave this conversation knowing several other options for calcium rich foods.

Here are the facts as I see them. Calcium deficiency is a widespread concern, and I see inadequate intake in my patients quite often, especially among teen girls, who of all groups need adequate calcium for building healthy bones. It may be most widespread among my African-American and Asian patients, who are more likely to display lactose intolerance and therefore not digest milk well. And we know that cow milk is a good source of calcium. So is there a problem with just recommending milk?


There are a number of highly respected MD’s who over the years have suggested that cow’s milk may be best suited for cows and not for humans. One was my department chair when I was on faculty at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Frank Oski, editor of major pediatric textbooks and research articles; Dr. Oski went so far as to write a book for the lay public calledDon’t Drink Your Milk. That caught my attention as a young doctor.

More recent data have linked cow milk to persistent inflammation in humans, and I have seen unusual symptoms clear up when some of my patients eliminated dairy, even if their allergy tests were negative. So for these reasons, I encourage my patients to explore a variety of food sources of calcium instead of depending solely on calcium supplements or milk.

Here are some excellent calcium rich foods for your healthy diet; another advantage of these over milk is that they clearly have other health benefits beyond the calcium alone.

• Legumes (beans): pinto beans, black-eyed peas, edamame (those delicious little raw green soybeans you can put on a salad or eat as a snack, find them in the frozen foods section), and other beans.

• Various vegetables: specifically, collards, mustard greens, kale, and turnip greens are near the top of the list for all vegetable sources of calcium, followed by spinach (cooked, you get more per serving), sun-dried tomatoes, bok-choy, okra, snap peas, chard, broccoli, cabbage and winter squashes (butternut), roughly in that order of amount of calcium per serving.

• Calcium fortified foods such as orange juice (also a good source of folate)


So here’s my advice: enjoy these dairy free sources of calcium regularly, especially early in life (teens and twenties) when bone density is being built. If you like milk and you do not have any digestive problems, chronic allergy symptoms, or auto-immune conditions, I think it is acceptable to enjoy dairy products from time to time. But in general I think you will do better to eat calcium rich foods such as listed above rather than relying solely on milk. And remember that these foods are just one part of a total package for bone health, including weight bearing exercise, vitamin D, an antiinflammatory diet, and a mind-body connection.

To your health and wellness,



Robert Pendergrast, MD 

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