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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43 comments

  1. Alex February 15, 2012

    Great post, Peggy. I love picking up new factoids about nutrition and world cultures everyday.. plus I love stocking up on silver bullet-facts for vegans ;)

    Now, please excuse me. It’s almost bed time, so I’m downing my mugs of warm, homemade beef stock!

    Reply
  2. CO_Horsegirl February 15, 2012

    I loved dairy growing up, was a 2-3 gallon a week milk drinker until about 2 years ago. Now that I’m pregnant, I tried a glass recently, sounded good, but man did it set my stomach off! Can’t eat yogurt right now either…so guess it’s bone broth for me!

    Reply
  3. Kristen February 15, 2012

    Thank you!! I am newly pregnant and also, sadly, dairy free…i love dairy…but found out in the last three months that it gives me migraines! No wonder my head hurt so much all the time…I used to eat a good portion of dairy every day. Sigh. I’m trying to eat all of the above several times per day and doing just fine without straight dairy thus far! Perfect timing.

    Reply
  4. Lauren February 15, 2012

    Thanks for this – the WAP brow-beating about the *need* for dairy during pregnancy is getting me down since dairy and I don’t mix at all well.
    Don’t forget that K2 is needed to activate the calcium and magnesium – without it, the healthy high mineral intake will lead to atherosclerosis (eep!). K2 is hella hard to get – it’s in good dairy (especially gouda, brie and parmesan I think), natto (gross! and rare), fish roe and bacteria. The moral of the story is: eat your ferments (or supplement). http://ancestralizeme.com/2011/11/27/book-review-vitamin-k2-and-the-calcium-paradox/
    Interesting about the salmon – at the risk of TMI, what are you smelling? Salmony-ness, or bitterness, or what? Peleo peeps talk about paleo poops, but not a lot of press goes into the info contained in pee-mail.

    Reply
  5. Keoni Galt February 16, 2012

    Peggy….do be mindful of BPA ingestion. A lot of canned foods and typical water bottles have it. If you’re the type that drinks a lot of bottled water, make sure you don’t re-use any plastic bottles!

    BPA is implicated in the rising numbers of hyposadia (penis birth defects) in infant males. I know someone who had to bring her own bottle to work, and she worked until her 9th month of pregnancy…and she re-used water bottles over and over again, on a daily basis throughout her entire pregnancey… and her son was born with hyposadia, and he will require surgery in the near future to fix it.

    Reply
  6. Keoni Galt February 16, 2012

    To clarify – most plastic water bottles made with BPA, will not leach the BPA into the water when you first open a new bottle and drink it. But constant reuse and exposure to light and heat of an old bottle will cause the BPA to leach into your drinking water. If you have a boy gestating, it could effect his sex organ development in utero.

    Reply
    1. Lilly February 17, 2012

      For the last 2 months I have been drinking milk with sugar and OJ to try to make my thyroid work better, and I felt great up to 1 week ago. I ovulated, I was full of preogesteron, had a libido for once, had energy, was happy and content. But a week ago my arthritis ( which is always present more or less) just went crazy, I got inflamed all over and couldn’t even climb the stairs. Depression kicked in also, edema etc. So, does that have anything to do with milk? Or my intestine is so damaged that I just cannot digest anything normally? Is it milk or is it us?

      Reply
      1. Peggy the Primal Parent February 20, 2012

        It is likely us. We were raised eating foods that messed up our bodies. We aren’t those perfect, primitive specimens that Price observed. But that doesn’t mean that we can just do it anyway, and eat the foods that primitive people eat, if our bodies aren’t ready for it.

        Reply
  7. lilly February 19, 2012

    Peggy, what about butter and ghee, do you eat them?
    It seems that dairy is going out of my diet,again:P
    Also, how much sugar/carbs do you eat a day? thanks!!!

    Reply
    1. Peggy the Primal Parent February 20, 2012

      Hi Lily! I continued to try butter/ghee after eliminating milk products and it didn’t improve the condition much. While everyone likes to say that ghee should be fine because it doesn’t have lactose or milk proteins, it isn’t necessarily the case that lactose and milk proteins are causing the problems.

      At this point I probably eat 3 1/2 tablespoons of grade B maple syrup a day. That’s it for carbs other than the little bit in carrots and tomatoes. I’ll write a post about what I’m eating, why and how it’s changed next week.

      Reply
      1. Lauren February 20, 2012

        Looking forward to that!

        Reply
      2. Lilly February 25, 2012

        that is pretty low carb:) I cannot do it btw, I tried several times and every time my day finishes in panic attacks and adrenaline rushes and me gulping down potatoes:)

        Reply
        1. Peggy the Primal Parent February 27, 2012

          I know what you mean. If I don’t eat enough carbs I’ll crave them too. Before I started eating sugar I craved starches in particular. I think I found a good level for my own body though with carbs so that I don’t experience cravings anymore, which is nice! However, on days when I feel like having more carbs, I just do. As long as I steer clear of starch and processed, prepared foods, my body regulates itself well. :)

          Reply
  8. ak February 19, 2012

    I’m not pregnant but I am dairy free. It is great to see all of these suggestions on how to get enough calcium in my diet. I have been taking calcium pills for years and wondered if it was a waste of money. Now I know that the best thing is to invest in good food and if I do need to supplement a little, then to make sure I am supplementing the vitamins that help absorb calcium. Bone broth has made my nails so much harder, I can only imagine what it is doing for my bones!

    Reply
  9. Jenny February 22, 2012

    Hi there,

    Thanks for this post today. I’m interested in trying to get more calcium from my diet and really liked how you layed out a day of eating and showed how easy it is to get enough calcium. I have a question regarding bone broth. I’ve never made it. Do you primarily make beef bone broth or chicken? Or does it even matter? And would you just place the bones in a pot with water and call it good? or do you add carrots/celery/onion/salt/pepper or any other seasonings to add flavor? Also, do you just try to have 1 cup of broth a day or more? Thanks for all your tips! I’m a nursing mom whose really trying to get my diet in better shape for me and my little guy.

    Reply
    1. Peggy the Primal Parent February 23, 2012

      Jenny, actually you will want to add something acidic to the water to get the nutrients out of the bones. That is the only really critical ingredient. Lots and lots of salt can do the trick too.

      Otherwise, yeah veggies are good. This week I did a very simple soup with bok choy, carrots, salt, and vinegar, with fresh cilantro on top. It was delicious!

      Reply
      1. russianmartini November 30, 2012

        I will have to try adding some vinegar next time to my bone broth for the acidity. I just made my first batch a couple of weeks ago and am pretty excited about how it came out – really jelly! In fact, I am writing a post about the benefits of bone broth.

        Reply
  10. Tricia February 22, 2012

    Excellent post! I’m also pregnant and have been worried about my calcium intake since I don’t tolerate dairy well. Thanks for the suggestions for incorporating calcium.

    Reply
    1. Peggy the Primal Parent February 23, 2012

      Ever so glad I could help! Congrats on your pregnancy!

      Reply
  11. Jennie (the gf-gf) February 24, 2012

    Thanks for posting this, Peggy! I’m not preggo, but I definitely worry about calcium. When I was growing up, my parents had me drinking milk at every meal, but since I had Celiac and didn’t know it, I doubt it did me much good. And now, when I’m craving yogurt and justify it by saying I need the calcium, my stomach says “I’d really rather have chicken broth and leafy greens!” :)

    I’m sure you’re a believer in getting good nutrition rather than taking supplements (particularly chocolate calcium disks or gummy bear vitamins) but I’m curious – do you take any supplements, and has that changed now that you’re pregnant? Fish oil or anything?

    Reply
    1. Peggy the Primal Parent February 24, 2012

      I do take very few supplements. I am going to do a post in a week or two about what I eat and I’ll let them there! I don’t take calcium though. That’s something I have no problem getting from my diet!

      Reply
  12. Susie February 26, 2012

    Great post! I’m not totally certain, but my mom always says that the molasses must be specifically *blackstrap* molasses to have the mineral content. It’s also a mega source of iron (I want to say 40% RDA in a tbsp?), so double bonus for pregnant women! For me it’s my go-to if I’m battling a serious sweet tooth.

    Reply
    1. Peggy the Primal Parent February 27, 2012

      My mom always used that term too. I’ll look at the molasses on the shelf at my health food store and see what the labels say. Grade B maple syrup has a lot of calcium and iron too. :)

      Reply
  13. GiGi Eats Celebrities February 26, 2012

    Canned fish with it’s bones as well as leafy greens are by far my favorite places to get calcium… Oh that and Sesame Seeds!!! Yummy!

    Reply
  14. Lisa C March 3, 2012

    Excellent, well-balanced article! I am off dairy for six weeks starting a few days ago, so this was perfect timing for me to read this. I recently tried collard-greens for the first time, definitely going to make them a staple. I think I eat enough calcium-rich foods, anyway, so I’m probably fine.

    I was also just looking through the Blood Type O Food List book by D’Adamo, because someone brought it up the other day and I just happened to have it….Anyway, I was really disappointed that the author would recommend calcium supplements for type O’s because of restricting dairy. First of all, that can be dangerous, as you pointed out the importance of the calcium to magneisum ratio. Secondly, how could ANY natural diet require vitamin or mineral supplements??? It kind of made me mad, haha. How can he claim to be advocating ancestral diets and also require supplements due to deficiencies in the diet?

    Reply
    1. Peggy the Primal Parent March 10, 2012

      Lisa, I love good timing like that! How is the no-dairy going? The blood type diet was never very valuable to me. I have sensitivities to some foods, not even allergies, just a lowered feeling. I thought for a while that it might be a blood type thing but it doesn’t seem to correspond too well to his list. Anyway, good point – advocating ancestral diets but maintaining that they are insufficient. Hmm.

      Reply
      1. Lisa C March 10, 2012

        It’s going well, Peggy. Sometimes I still miss having a glass of milk with a meal, but I’m adapting. I’ve been trying to eat more veggies to make up for the lost carbs, and I notice I want more nuts now, too.

        As for how I feel without the milk…not sure, since I started the GAPS intro diet the same day I quit dairy. However, I do think fresh raw milk was giving me a tiny bit of bloating and might possibly have contributed to an ear problem I was having. I think I’ll be able to handle cultured dairy, though, which is what I’ll start with when I reintroduce the dairy.

        Reply
  15. Lilly March 4, 2012

    I noticed that I am b12 defficient, and when I’m supplementing B vitamins I feel generally better and I can digest more food than usual without allergies and digestive problems, including dairy!I ate nutrient dense food, but it didn’t seem to be enough. Is seems that when the gut is damaged it is unable to absorb all the needed nutrients from food and at the same time when it doesn’t have all the ntrients it cannot digest food, so it is a closed circle.

    Reply
  16. Grace March 16, 2012

    Just wanted to throw in that I will be adding eggshells to our diet, as I have a picky eater who has allergies, which makes it very hard to sneak things in. So, thank you for that.

    Also, you can count on about 35 mg of calcium in one cup of bone broth that has been simmered in acidic water. I read it on paleo hacks I think. Nutritiondata.com says 19mg, but I think that maybe the bones from that study were not done in acidic water.

    Reply
    1. Peggy the Primal Parent March 16, 2012

      Ah thanks! I really had no idea about bone broth calcium content.

      Reply
  17. Kris July 2, 2012

    People respond to dairy in so many different ways and for a miraid or reasons, all related to some kind of deficiency in their body. I for one, don’t struggle with dairy products at all, never have, and I consumed them always, and still do, in moderation. They don’t bloat me, don’t make me feel moody and I feel I have more energy when I consume them.

    I am considering however cutting everything out of my diet, except for basic and top paleo list, foods for 6 months. Maybe even do a raw foods diet (except for meet – I have to cook that ).

    I have, since puberty, started exhibiting PCOS issues,, been confirmed and diagnosed at 27 and again at 32. I’m 34 now. and seem to have idiots for doctors. I got on Diane 35 to “regulate” my body and frankly other than side effects and regular periods and don’t think this did anything for me. So I decided to ignore idiot doctors (a whole team of them) and take matters into my own hands.

    I’m not obsesse and I excercise regularly (and not leisurely,,, I spend myself). I do have to clean up food and drop about 40 pounds. I was not at all overweight until i was 27 by the way. my Simpsons became pronounced more with weight gain. I did gain weight because of food,, pcos didn’t make m fat,,, my mouth made me overweight…

    This is top priority now. I’ll stop BC too… It makes no sense to me to take synthetic hormones (this has been realy bothering me).

    If you have a moment, I’d like to ask,, have you written more in depth about how you got rid of PCOS?

    Mine is not an extremely difficult case. I have mild hirustism in comparison to most women (and laser hair removal did a good job on me) and a very mild top scalp thinning which is truly mild and can be thought of as my natural hair condition (I notice it, but others not so much). I hope i can make that better over time. I did have irregular periods but that always self regulates when I drop my weight below and exact certain number of pounds (I found that very interesting.)

    I’m researching these cases where ladies dealt with PCOS successfully. I am hopeful. I’m convinced that PCOS is a matter of body’s sensitivity to something in our nutrition or something that we eat that binds chemically in a way that causes our bodies to act up. Even when inherited, all it really means is that we inherited the biological sensitivity, not the condition itself, and since we often eat exactly as our parents, the sensitivity would come forward as in our parents.

    Anyways,, sorry for the long comment. You have a fun blog here. Very interesting reads :). Quite informative too.

    I’d appreciate if you could point out articles or information you used to help your PCOS. I found a few ladies advocating raw foods to clean up the body…

    Reply
  18. Grace October 1, 2012

    I want to add mineral water as a source of calcium. Check the mineral content on your water, it can be pretty high in calcium (can be pretty low too, so check). I’v started buying a brand here in Ireland called Ballygowan, and it gives me close to 200 mg for 1.5 litres in a day. I checked all the labels and found that this particular mineral water has double the amount of any other mineral water I looked – I checked all of them in four different stores.

    Reply
  19. Adam January 4, 2013

    I’ve certainly noticed my urine smelling when eating canned salmon. Are you sure this is toxins? I noticed some brands have a gross taste, and it’s not consistent but parts of the fish. I’ve tried canned mackerel at one grocery store, and it was delicious tasted better than salmon. I’ve tried it at another store, and it was really gross.

    Reply
  20. Brina Blount February 14, 2013

    do u think this milk is the best

    Reply
  21. Shaun April 19, 2013

    I like your blog. One issue I have though is your assumption that since bones are “chalk full of calcium” bone broth is as well. I am a Phd candidate in food science at the University of Georgia and sat on the board which peer reviewed a study authored by University of Edinburg food science professors examining bioavailability of calcium in bone broths and stocks. The fact of the matter is bone broths and stocks have little to no bioavailabe calcium whatsoever. If the stock is made with no acidic ingredients it has zero calcium. If it is made with a ph of 3.5-4.5 it has only 35mg of bioavailabe calcium per cup (after cooking for 48 hours).
    Since you are giving advice to pregnant women who need calcium to help the formation of their child, perhaps you should revisit your claims of bone broth providing this essential mineral. The rest of your claims hold water (ground eggshells do add calcium as well as aid in heartburn relief since they are made of calcium carbonate).
    https://www.ease.ed.ac.uk/cosign.cgi?cosign-eucsCosign-secure.ezproxy.is.ed.ac.uk&https://secure.ezproxy.is.ed.ac.uk/index.php/?url=ezp.2aHR0cDovL3d3dy5zcHJpbmdlcmxpbmsuY29tL2NvbnRlbnQvcDd1MDEzdzczNjAwMTZ3Mi9mdWxsdGV4dC5wZGY-

    Reply
    1. Gigi June 6, 2013

      I was unable to login in order to access the above paper. However, I really would like to access it. Can you provide the name of the paper, the authors and other pertinent information so that I may try to find it? Otherwise, perhaps you could provide it in a pdf format.

      Reply

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