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Ask the experts: Mediterranean diet

Q: "The Mediterranean Diet is promoted as one of the healthiest, but it never mentions dairy products. On the Mediterranean Diet, how does one get enough calcium? I know other foods provide some calcium, but here in NZ we are given the impression that diary products are necessary for adequate calcium intake."


A: We asked nutritionist Cindy Williams to respond:

"The Mediterranean diet is based on the food patterns typical of Greece, Crete and southern Italy in the 1960s. These people ate lots of vegetables, legumes, fruit, unrefined grains and olive oil with a moderate intake of fish, eggs, chicken and dairy. The Mediterranean Diet recommends two serves of dairy a day. In a traditional Mediterranean diet this would have been from yoghurt or white cheese such as goats' cheese.

If the only calcium we got from food was in dairy products, two dairy serves would not be enough – the guidelines from the Ministry of Health recommend 1000mg a day which is closer to 3-4 dairy serves. But while dairy is the richest source of calcium, there is also a good amount of calcium in the large serves of green vegetables, dried beans, whole grains and nuts recommended on this diet. A cup of cooked broccoli provides 30mg calcium, a cup of chickpeas 100mg, one egg or 15 almonds around 50mg and a cup of spinach 100mg (although the latter is not as well absorbed). These may seem small amounts but they all add up.

Generally if you have a varied diet you will get enough calcium by including two or more (high-calcium) dairy serves in your day (the recommendation for Kiwis is at least two serves). We highlight dairy as it is traditionally an important source of calcium for Kiwis. For other ways to get a high calcium boost, try a small can of salmon (with bones) or sardines on grainy toast or a cup of calcium-enriched soy drink."

Date modified: 3 April 2017
First published: Jan 2009


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