*Cow’s milk (any % fat) provides on average 300 mg calcium per cup = 30% RDI for adults age 19-50 years.
Calcium in milk alternatives
Cow’s milk is a naturally excellent source* of calcium, a mineral needed for bone and tooth development and maintenance, blood clotting, transmitting nerve impulses, and the regulation of heart rhythm. But if you can’t or don’t want to drink milk, the alternatives may or may not meet your mineral needs. You can’t assume that if calcium is added to an alternative, that it contains enough of it or that it’s supported by other key nutrients.
Unless you’re getting 5-9 servings of green leafy vegetables daily, chances are you need your milk or alternative to provide a significant portion of your calcium intake. Whether you prefer soy, almond, cashew, coconut, rice, hemp, flax, oat or pea milk, in order for it to provide decent calcium, it will need to be fortified. A good source of calcium is one that contains 10-19% Daily Value, whereas an excellent source has at least 20% Daily Value for calcium. Check your beverage’s Nutrition Facts panel to find out how much calcium one serving provides.
SALT CALCIUM PHOSPHATE
In cow’s milk, calcium is bound as the salt calcium phosphate. Phosphorus is the second most abundant element (after calcium) in our bodies and is mainly present in the skeletal system, so it makes sense to go hand-in-hand with calcium. For best bioavailability, milk alternatives should preferably be fortified with tricalcium phosphate or calcium phosphate, as opposed to calcium citrate, calcium gluconate or calcium carbonate.
Calcium’s absorption is enhanced by Vitamin D which is found in milk fat as cholecalciferol (Vitamin D3), so a milk substitute should also include Vitamin D for the calcium content to be comparable. However, the problem is that non-dairy milks are vegan and the Vitamin D form used for their fortification is the weaker ergocalciferol (Vitamin D2). So look for at least 30% Daily Value of Vitamin D on the Nutrition Facts panel.
Cow’s milk provides other micronutrients such as magnesium, potassium, Vitamin A, riboflavin (Vitamin B2), and Vitamin B12, so if you’re really looking for the maximum nutritional replacement, check to see that you have adequate sources of those micronutrients too. Protein is a major nutrient which isn’t fortified in milks, so if you choose a protein-poor (< 5 grams) milk alternative derived from rice, hemp, flax, oats, coconut or nuts, be selective about the rest of your diet.