How to Get Enough Calcium When You’re Dairy-Free, Pregnant, and Paleo

Bone Broth with chicken legs, liver, spinach, carrots, and red wine

When I started the Paleo diet – and most of the years since – I didn’t eat dairy. So, when I was pregnant with my first daughter I didn’t eat dairy. It seemed like this put me in a bit of a predicament, though; a pregnant woman needs calcium, right?

I had to think.

What did people used to do for calcium before people started herding animals? What about modern tribes who don’t herd animals?

After a little thought, it seemed kind of odd that dairy was considered necessary during pregnancy. Was this some kind of American nutritional fallacy… again? Maybe dairy is great for some people, but is it really necessary for all people?

AmericanPregnancy.org recommends 1000 mg of calcium per day for pregnant women. This amounts to 3-4 servings of dairy per day. So, what about the bones of all the people in the world who don’t eat dairy? Are they breaking left and right or what?

The recommendation is nonsense, obviously; that’s the only logical conclusion. The American dairy requirement for pregnant women is misguided, lazy, or, most likely, bought and paid for.

Plenty of Societies Thrive Without Dairy

There are many vibrantly healthy people in the world that don’t eat dairy. Asians (other than India) didn’t eat dairy until recently and for the most part still don’t. The same is true for tribes in the Amazon rain forest. Traditional Hawaiians don’t eat dairy either. These are all remarkably healthy people with strong bones and even less incidence of osteoporosis than we have here in the US.

But Doesn’t High Protein Intake Cause Calcium Loss?

Maybe you’ve heard that calcium intake needs to be higher in people who eat more protein. Upon closer inspection by scientists, this doesn’t seem to be the case.

Vegans like to pull this card, so let’s get a better understanding of what’s going on here.

Bones aren’t compact calcium sticks. In fact, bones are composed of 50% protein and 50% minerals. So, we need substantial amounts of both to make and/or heal bones. In a 2002 study of the affects of protein and calcium on bone density researchers found that subjects who ate less protein suffered more bone loss.

“Those with the highest protein intakes gained bone, whereas those with the lowest intakes actually lost bone. Clearly, calcium was not enough to protect the skeleton when protein intakes were low. Equally clearly, high protein intakes did not adversely affect bone status.”

Researchers did find that urinary calcium was higher in subjects with a higher protein intake, but it doesn’t cause bone loss. When urinary calcium excretion hits 30 mg our parathyroid gland responds with the excretion of parathyroid hormone which improves calcium absorption efficiency.

Why You Might Want to Rethink Milk – Western Milk At Least

I’m not going to reiterate the arguments here but I’ll link to them for you. SaveOurBones.com Takes a stab at debunking the milk myth. Basically, their argument is that milk (particularly pasteurized milk) is acidifying and so in order to maintain proper alkalinity our bodies borrow some of the alkaline calcium from our bones. Whoops, so much for all the calcium we just ate!

Calcium requires magnesium for absoption. The ratio of calcium to magnesium in milk is 12:1. In plant sources it is much lower.

And excessive calcium can cause low serum magnesium levels.

How Raw Milk Has Well Served Many Primitive Peoples

On the other hand, raw milk from cows grazing on green pasture has served many traditional cultures all over the world very well for centuries, if not millenia. The Massai tribe in Africa are a robust and exceptionally tall people who live almost exclusively on raw milk (mostly fermented), meat, and blood. Weston Price studied healthy milk-drinking people all over the world and found strong teeth and excellent bone structure. For a great history of milk, read Ron Schmid’s The Untold Story of Milk.

…But We Don’t Really Need It

Raw, grassfed sources certainly can be beneficial for some healthy people who weren’t raised eating crap and didn’t develop sensitivities to it.

But dairy isn’t requisite for good health. Plenty of women all over the world build babies every day without dairy. I did it. I’m doing it again now and, well, half the rest of the world is doing it too. So, how do they do it? They eat other calcium-rich foods.

High Calcium, Dairy-Free Foods

  • Bone broth adds ample minerals to the diet. Bones are chalk full of calcium. Making broth from those bones releases it.
  • – Dry them and pulverize them, or add them to your soup.
  • Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium. You can get this from sunshine and cod liver oil.
  • Leafy greens:
    • Spinach, cooked – ½ cup, 125 mg
    • Bok Choy – ½ cup, 80 mg
    • Kale, cooked – ½ cup, 80 mg
    • Collard greens – ½ cup, 175 mg
  • Canned salmon with bones – 3 oz, 180mg
    • I have found that some canned salmon is toxic in some way. I can smell it in my pee. Raincoast salmon does not do this while the Whole Foods brand, which is a lot cheaper, does.
  • Nuts
    • Almonds – 1oz, 75mg
    • Brazil – 1 oz, 45mg
    • Macadamia – 1oz, 23mg
  • Oysters – 3oz, 80mg
  • Herbs and spices have lots of calcium – use liberally with meals.
  • Molasses – 1 tbsp, 40mg
  • Orange – 1 Large Florida, 64mg
  • Eggs – 2 eggs, 50mg

If you make an actual attempt to be healthy, getting your calcium isn’t all that hard.

Breakfast: An orange with a couple eggs – 114mg
Snack: Some almonds with molasses – 135mg
Lunch: Can of salmon with a spinach salad – 400mg
Dinner: Bone broth soup with collard greens – 175+ whatever the calcium content of bone broth is.

Total is 824 + whatever the the calcium content of bone broth is, and whatever else you ate for the day. Looks like you’ve got your calcium requirements covered, no dairy necessary and your magnesium is quite a bit higher too! For more info on specific food’s calcium content check out NutritionData.com

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