Can salads be a good source of calcium?

At the World’s Healthiest Foods, we’re never surprised when asked about non-dairy foods and whether they can be good sources of calcium. The association between calcium and dairy foods has been referred to so continuously in marketing and advertisements that it’s difficult for any of us to think about calcium without thinking about dairy. In terms of research, however, the link between calcium and dairy foods is not nearly as strong as marketers and advertisers would lead us to believe, while the link between calcium and other foods is much, much stronger than most people think. With the short answer to your question being “Yes! Salads can be a good source of calcium”, this article will address some of the reasons why and give you practical tips to creating calcium-rich salads.

Salad greens and calcium

Calcium is found in a wide variety of foods that can make great components of salads! Virtually all greens contain calcium. By “greens,” we are not only referring to lettuces, like romaine, but also to the dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, Swiss chard, mustard greens and collard greens. Shredded cabbage, also common in many salad bars, is also a source of good source of calcium.

Other salad fixings and calcium

In addition to salad greens, there are many other common salad bar components that contain calcium. Virtually all of the nuts and seeds - and especially sesame seeds - contain calcium. So do the beans found on most salad bars: navy, pinto, kidney, and black are all calcium-containing foods. In addition, tofu chunks are an increasingly common salad bar offering; and particularly when the tofu has been calcium-precipitated (meaning that calcium was used to help convert the soy milk into tofu), it can provide a significant amount of calcium.

Calcium-rich salads - an example

Although none of the above salad ingredients by themselves provide a large percentage of the total day’s calcium, add them all up and they can make a significant contribution. While calcium-rich salad combinations are endless, here’s one example of how a delicious salad can put you well on your way to meeting your daily calcium requirement.

Let’s start with a basic salad staple, like romaine lettuce. Using two cups as our salad base, we are starting off our salad with 40 milligrams of calcium. Adding one half-cup of Swiss chard leaves would bump us up another 25 milligrams, to 65 total. Now let’s add 1/2 cup soybeans at 87 milligrams, and 1/3 kidney beans, at 40 milligrams, and we’re up to 192 milligrams. Sprinkle on two tablespoons of sesame seeds and we have a salad that provides us with a whopping 277 milligrams of calcium.

Salad vs 2% cow’s milk – a comparison

In terms of total calcium, the salad we just make is about 33% higher in calcium content than a glass of 2% milk (which has about 300 milligrams of calcium). Although it is also higher in calories (240 for the salad and 120 for the milk), we think that this difference is unimportant, since all of us can afford 120 additional calories from high-quality foods. For those 120 calories, not only are you getting a third more calcium but a concentration of many important nutrients. For example, while there are only 2 milligrams of vitamin C in a cup of milk, there is over 20 times that in the salad’s romaine lettuce alone!

Practical tips

It’s easy to make a salad that can provide you with exceptional amounts of calcium. Table 1 can serve as a reference guide to high calcium containing salad foods. Additionally, there is a link in Introduction in the article on Calcium that shows how you all of the World's Healthiest Foods rate in terms of their calcium content.

Choose amongst your favorite salad fixings. As noted above, even starting your salad with a base of romaine lettuce and then adding more leafy greens such as chard, mustard greens, turnip greens and/or spinach will put you on your way to making a calcium rich dish. From there, add your favorite vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruits, and legumes. Appreciating how so many of the World's Healthiest Foods contribute notable amounts of calcium to a daily meal plan, you'll begin to see how not only can you enjoy salads that are delicous but those that are 'calcium-nutritious'.

Table 1

Calcium-Rich Salad Ingredients

Food Serving Calcium (mg) % DV Density Quality
Sesame seeds 0.25 cup 351.0 35.1 3.1 Good
Collard greens, boiled 1.0 cup 226.1 22.6 8.2 Excellent
Turnip greens, cooked 1.0 cup 197.3 19.7 12.3 Excellent
Soybeans, cooked 1.0 cup 175.4 17.5 1.1 -
Navy beans, cooked 1.0 cup 127.4 12.7 0.9 -
Mustard greens, boiled 1.0 cup 103.6 10.4 8.9 -
Chard, boiled 1.0 cup 101.5 10.2 5.2 Very good
Kale, fresh, boiled 1.0 cup 93.6 9.4 4.6 Very good
Almonds 0.25 cup 88.0 8.8 0.8 -
Tofu, raw 4.0 oz-wt 86.2 10.0 2.1 Good
Pinto beans, cooked 1.0 cup 82.1 8.2 0.6 -
Garbonzo beans, cooked 1.0 cup 80.4 8.0 0.5 -
Green snap/string beans, boiled 1.0 cup 57.5 5.8 2.4 Good
Celery, raw 1.0 cup 48.0 4.8 4.5 Good
Black beans, boiled 1.0 cup 46.4 4.6 0.4 -
Cabbage, raw 1.0 cup 41.8 4.2 2.5 Good
Lettuce, romaine 2.0 cup 40.3 4.0 4.6 Good

References

Weaver CM, Heaney RP, Nickel KP et al. (1997). Calcium bioavailability from high oxalate vegetables, sweet potatoes, and rhubarb. J Food Sci 62(3):524-525.

Heaney, R. P.; Dowell, M. S.; Rafferty, K., and Bierman, J. Bioavailability of the calcium in fortified soy imitation milk, with some observations on method. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 May; 71(5):1166-9.

This page was updated on: 2004-11-22 15:07:34
© 2002 The George Mateljan Foundation