The biggest question I have gotten from people (mostly my mom) is about calcium. If I don't eat dairy, from where am I getting calcium? There are a lot of sources of calcium besides dairy, it's just that dairy products have the highest content and best absorption at a cost effect price. Options include tofu, oatmeal, sesame seeds, figs, broccoli, almonds, and sardines. Oxalic acid can inhibit calcium absorption, so a food like spinach doesn't turn out to be the best source despite high elemental calcium content.
According to the North American Menopause Society's 2010 position paper, the recommended daily intake of elemental calcium for my age is 1000mg. Calcium, along with vitamin d (necessary for regulation and absorption of calcium) are a part of bone health despite recent bad press. As women get older, we need to increase our calcium intake for a variety of reasons involving estrogen and vitamin d deficiencies. Unfortunately, even for women who consume dairy, the average daily calcium intake of a postmenopausal woman is around 700mg from dietary sources (1200mg recommended). Dietary sources are preferred to supplements.
I was curious how much calcium I consume in a day, so I did some wild estimating and a quick calculation on today's meals.
Almond milk: 100 (I didn't realize until I looked at it that it is calcium fortified)
Sardines (on top of spinach - fail on my part!): 370 (maybe the spinach just canceled itself out)
Brown rice: 50
Coconut milk: 10
Pumpkin seeds: 30
So I came in under my goal, right close to the average. The thing is I don't think I would have made it even if I was eating dairy.
On a side note, I have to mention the brilliance of the dairy industry's marketing campaign (discussion of a launch here). What I did not realize is that farmers, under the Dairy Promotion and Research Program, have to contribute for the cost of those ads. Some dairy producers have tried to separate themselves from the promotions of the Dairy Program, arguing not all milk is created equal and should therefore not be marketed generically. Apparently federally subsidized milk advertising began during the time of the New Deal (history of milk here)...makes you wonder how our dietary landscape would differ if an alternative source of calcium had been chosen.