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Of all the annoying misconceptions about veganism, the most annoying one I find is the topic of calcium. Of course, just because I don’t eat eggs or drink milk, my bones must be wasting away. Any time I bump into a door, it’s a trip to A&E to deal with a fracture, right?
Anyway, I thought it was as good a time as any to address the calcium issue on this blog, and help others that stick to a vegan diet and lifestyle to be armed with all the important facts.
Yes, from a nutrition perspective calcium is very important, but there are plenty of vegan foods that will give you more than enough easy access to the nutrients needed for bone health.
So, let’s dive right in with some basics.
You’ll probably have noticed the regular TV commercials put out by the dairy industry about how vital calcium is for people of all ages. Without it, you won’t be able to maintain strong bones, and of course, milk is the only real solution.
Leaving out the last part of that message, actually makes those statements very true. The only problem I have with it is that there are plenty of calcium-rich vegan foods, with many of them being a much better choice than dairy products.
Anyway, here’s an interesting fact that surprised me. About 99% of all the calcium in your body can be found in your bones and teeth. (1)
That’s quite an impressive amount and goes to show why it’s so important for bone health.
But every single cell in your body needs at least some amount of this mineral. And if your regular diet foods don’t contain enough, then your body will release some from bone tissue, and that can cause osteoporosis, aka brittle bones.
For most adults, it will take quite some time to get to that stage, but for young children and the elderly, it can be a real concern. As for vegans, I’ll get to that question right after we look at some numbers.
For optimum bone health and development, there is a certain amount of calcium that is recommended depending on the life stage. Let’s start with just listing out the daily numbers.
As you can see, the amounts humans need at different stages in life can vary a lot, but it can be fully explained by what’s actually happening at those stages.
What surprised me most is that a young baby will need almost 2/3 of the calcium of an adult, while a toddler will need about half. Considering the difference in physical size, I found that quite staggering.
However, this does show precisely how calcium plays such a vital role in bone development. The fastest human growth takes place between new-born and 1 year old, and it accelerates again during teenage years.
The reason I wanted to present this information near the top of this page, is that for families that stick to a vegan lifestyle, it’s important to meet these daily needs to ensure healthy development in children.
No, vegans don’t lack calcium just because they don’t drink cow’s milk. It’s a common myth that is quite easy to address. While dairy products do contain a lot of calcium, they are by far not the only option.
When you consider that early humans hadn’t mastered domesticating cows and that other vegan mammals do just fine, you’ll start to get the picture that there must be other foods that are high enough in calcium to meet your needs.
So, let’s start looking into what vegans need to do to maintain their bone health.
The first thing you need to do is figure out where your age comes in the above chart of intake needs.
This way, you’ll have a starting point. The next thing you should do is look at the list of foods in the next section and work out how much of each you would need to eat to meet your daily needs.
Then, it just becomes a case of making sure you pick maybe 3 or 4 of each of the best sources and add them to your food plan for each day of the week.
Once you get through the list of options, you’ll understand why you don’t want to just pick one of them for each day.
When I first started a plant-based diet, I thought it would be really difficult to find good sources of calcium that are not animal-based. I immediately jumped into getting vital nutrients from supplements instead of different foods.
But I was surprised by how many foods were available with great amounts of calcium.
This is by far the best vegan food for calcium content. Just one cup of cooked soybeans will provide about 20% of an adult's daily requirement.
But it gets even better when you look at some other soy-based products.
Just 3 ounces of calcium-set tofu will contain 350 mg of calcium, which is half the daily need for an adult.
On top of that, it’s also a great option to boost your protein intake. (2)
These are some of my personal favorites because they also provide a really good dose of protein and fiber to fill you up.
Basically, the more beans and peas you can add to your meals the better.
Let’s take a look at some numbers.
1 cup (5 ounces) of goa beans will provide about 25% of your daily needs, while the same amount of navy beans will give you 13% of your daily requirements.
And you’ll get very similar results from black and white beans as well.
One of the absolute best options for high-calcium food is almonds. Just a 1/4 cup, or 1 ounce, will provide 97 mg of calcium.
That’s just from a handful of nuts that are also a very delicious snack.
Brazil nuts are another great option that many people actually prefer from a flavor perspective. The same amount will provide about 70 mg.
Just make sure you get them from a health food store where they are sourced from organic and sustainable farms.
Seeds are another great source of calcium, and they are so easy to add to your meals.
I sprinkle some chia on my oatmeal breakfast which contains 18% RDA of calcium, and hemp and sesame seeds on my salads. (3)
Very tasty and just 2 tablespoons will provide about 70 mg of calcium.
If you don’t mind the very strong taste of tahini, then just 2 tablespoons will provide about 110 mg.
Chia seeds are widely considered a “superfood,” and for a good reason: these little seeds pack a huge nutrient punch. One ounce has 11 grams of fiber, 18 percent of your daily calcium recommendation, and plenty of omega-3s.
- Lauren Wicks, Blogger
You do have to become a bit more adventurous and stray away from the typical wheat and oatmeal. Amaranth and teff are two types of grain that contain a significant amount of calcium, and they can easily be used to make a breakfast porridge.
Just one cup of these cooked grains will contain about 110 mg of calcium, which is quite impressive. You'll definitely want to add this in your breakfast for sure.
Most people only think of seaweed as some sort of skin treatment in spas, but as far as nutrition goes, it’s kind of a superfood.
Just one cup, or 3 ounces, of wakame, will provide a huge 126 mg of calcium, while the same amount of kelp will be close to 140 mg.
Yes, they are acquired tastes, but when you mix a cup of them in with a salad, you can create some very interesting flavors.
You can search for food recipes that you can put seaweed in so you can have an exciting vegan meal plan.
This is possibly one of the best-kept secrets when it comes to minerals, but there are tons of really dark vegetables that are rich in calcium.
Turnip greens, bok choy, broccoli, collard greens, kale, and mustard greens, are just a few that you’ll easily find at a whole food store.
The great thing is that they all have unique flavors so you can create really tasty recipes.
Just half a cup of any of the above greens in cooked form will give you 10% of your daily calcium requirement. It really wouldn’t be too difficult to get 3 or 4 cups them into your meals.
Overall, fruit is not a great source, but there are some that you can account for each day.
Orange juice is one of the better options, not just for the vitamin boost and the fact that it helps with iron absorption, but a glass of fresh orange juice can provide about 50 mg of calcium. (4)
People also like to eat figs as a single one will contain about 2% of your RDI, but keep in mind that it’s a bit less for dried figs.
One way to become less reliant on supplements is to look for fortified foods. I mentioned calcium-set tofu above, which is also great for protein.
But you can also buy a lot of plant milk like almond and soy milk that are fortified with minerals.
I’ve been able to find some products that contain 300 mg per cup, which really reduces any need for supplements.
You can search for trusted brands in the internet before heading to the grocery. For sure, you'll definitely love trying out different fortified foods
Yes, I know I’m kind of recommending something that is high in sugar, but sometimes you have to balance up the good with the bad. Obviously, you won’t need cups of it, but just one tablespoon will provide 180 mg of calcium along with tons of other minerals.
Blackstrap molasses contains the vitamins and minerals that it absorbs from the sugar cane plant. Molasses has a moderate glycemic load of 55, which makes it a better choice than refined sugar, especially for people with diabetes. It contains high levels of vitamin B6, manganese, magnesium, potassium, iron, and selenium.
- Christine Ruggeri, Nutrition Counselor
Pretty much all dietitians will advise that you should get as much of your vitamin and mineral needs from real food.
But I guess there’s only that much kale, mustard greens, broccoli, and seeds that you can eat. That’s why I always recommend taking calcium supplements at least a couple of times per week. It just gives you a bit more flexibility with your meal plans.
Here are our recommended vegan calcium supplements.
Also, keep in mind that as you grow older, your calcium absorption levels will decrease, making it more important to use supplements.
You can also watch this video to learn how this vlogger increased her calcium intake without eating fortified foods.
Do Vegans Need a Calcium Supplement?
Yes, vegans should consider taking a calcium supplement, as it provides greater flexibility when planning your meals for the week. You won’t need to take it every day, but with many health factors resulting in lower calcium absorption, it’s not a bad idea to get a regular boost.
Do Vegans Get Osteoporosis?
No, vegans don’t get osteoporosis just because they are vegans. It’s just as easy to include calcium-rich plant food as it is to source non-animal protein. Also, osteoporosis is mostly caused by many other factors and underlying conditions unrelated to diets.
Yes, a cup of almonds will contain slightly more calcium than a cup of milk. The specific numbers are 380 mg for almonds versus 300 mg for milk, which goes to show that milk is not always the best option for minerals.
Yes, you absolutely can get calcium from plants with many leafy greens, seeds, nuts, and beans containing quite high amounts. It’s actually quite easy to get all your calcium needed for the day by simple adjustments to your meals.
Yes, calcium is an important mineral for vegans, especially in the early stages of the lifestyle change. But it really is no different than working out how to get all your macros like carbs and protein from plants.
With the above information, I’m pretty certain that you can adapt your diet to fully cover all your calcium needs.
And if you do think you need a little boost every so often, then supplements are a great choice. You could go for a calcium supplement or a vegan multivitamin - see here for some of our favorites.
As always, let us know if you have other good ideas on this topic and share it with us on the Facebook page.