Around the world, more and more consumers are ditching meat, dairy, and eggs in favor of a vegan lifestyle. If this is you, or you’re simply considering reducing your intake of animal products, you might be concerned about missing out on certain vitamins and minerals. Don’t be! According to many medical experts, if you follow a balanced whole food, plant-based diet, you can get everything you need, including calcium.
What is Calcium and Why Do We Need It?
When we’re children, it’s often drummed into us that we need to drink cow’s milk and eat dairy products in order to grow up big and strong. This is because dairy is rich in calcium, which is essential for bone health. It also helps to regulate our heartbeat, according to the NHS, and makes sure our blood clots normally.
“Every day, we lose calcium through our skin, nails, hair, sweat, urine, and feces,” says the National Osteoporosis Foundation (NOF). “That’s why it’s important to get enough calcium from the food we eat. When we don’t get the calcium our body needs, it is taken from our bones. This is fine once in a while, but if it happens too often, bones get weak and easier to break.”
How Much Calcium Do We Need?
To protect our bone health, we need to get just enough calcium. According to NOF, that’s about 1,000 milligrams daily for a female aged 50 and under, and about 1,200 milligrams for those aged 51 and over. The foundation notes that the allowance is slightly different for males; for those aged 70 and under, it’s 1,000 milligrams and for those aged 71 and over, it’s 1,200 milligrams.
If we don’t get enough calcium, we can become deficient. Calcium deficiency is particularly common in menopausal and post-menopausal women, which is why the recommended allowance is slightly higher for those aged 50 and above. Symptoms that you’re not getting enough calcium include pins and needles in hands and feet, muscle spasms, and a low mood, says A.vogel.
It says, “restoring an adequate level of calcium into the diet, or taking calcium supplements under supervision of a medical professional helps to treat calcium deficiency.”
It’s also possible to take too much calcium, leading to the rare condition known as hypercalcemia, notes A.vogel. Hypercalcemia symptoms can include excessive thirst, urination, and weak muscles and bones.
Can You Get Calcium From a Vegan Diet?
It is possible to get enough calcium from a vegan diet, according to multiple medical professionals. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) — made up 150,000 medical professionals — states that the healthiest source of calcium is not actually milk, but dark leafy greens and legumes.
“Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, collards, kale, mustard greens, Swiss chard, and other greens are loaded with highly absorbable calcium and a host of other healthful nutrients,” the organization says on its website. “The exception is spinach, which contains a large amount of calcium but tends to hold onto it very tenaciously so that you will absorb less of it.”
It adds that while cows milk and other dairy products do contain calcium, the benefits do not outweigh the potential harm.
“Dairy products do contain calcium, but it is accompanied by animal proteins, lactose sugar, animal growth factors, occasional drugs and contaminants, and a substantial amount of fat and cholesterol in all but the defatted versions,” the organization notes.
PCRM also notes that whilst getting enough calcium into your vegan diet is totally possible, it’s important to do enough exercise to keep it there. This goes for any diet, it notes. “Active people tend to keep calcium in their bones, while sedentary people lose calcium,” it explains.
These Are the Vegan Foods Highest in Calcium
1. Soy Milk
Soy milk — available from a number of brands, including Alpro, Silk, and Vitasoy — is a strong source of calcium. According to Alpro, its products contain a similar amount of calcium to dairy milk, so you don’t need to worry about making the switch to soya on your cereal.
“Yes, our soya products are a source of calcium, just like dairy,” the brand states on its website. “The level of calcium in dairy is similar to the levels of calcium in our soya drinks (except Alpro Soya Drink Organic), plant-based alternatives to yoghurt and the desserts. Our calcium enriched soya products are therefore a good alternative to dairy.”
Just like soy milk, tofu — also made from soybeans — is a good source of calcium. According to PCRM, half a cup of calcium-set tofu can contain around 861 milligrams of the mineral. The organization notes that tofu also contains high levels of magnesium, “which your body uses along with calcium to build bones.”
As highlighted by PCRM, dark greens like broccoli are rich in calcium; one cup can contain up to 62 milligrams of the mineral. If you’re not a fan of this member of the cabbage family, why not try sneaking it into some of your favorite meals? It can be added to creamy dairy-free mac and cheese, Thai fried rice, or a rich tomato bolognese.
Broccoli isn’t just packed with calcium, but it’s rich in protein, iron, magnesium, and potassium too, making it a nutritional superfood with potential huge health benefits. BBC Good Food notes, “a study by Nutrition Research found that consuming steamed broccoli regularly lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease by reducing the total amount of cholesterol in the body.”
Tempeh is high in a number of vitamins and minerals, including protein, iron, and calcium. According to The World’s Healthiest Foods, because tempeh is fermented, digestibility is increased, as well as nutrient absorption.
It says, “according to a recent research analysis of the U.S. population and dietary practices within this population, U.S. adults would increase their intake of folate, vitamin K, calcium, magnesium, iron, and fiber if we replaced our meat and dairy intake with soy, including tempeh.”
According to Healthline, almonds have the highest calcium content of all nuts. It notes that just one ounce of almonds will give you eight percent of your recommended daily calcium intake. They’re also high in fiber, healthy fats, magnesium, and protein.
6. Orange Juice
If you’re in the mood for something a little bit fruity, you can try and up your calcium intake with juice. According to PCRM, fortified apple and orange juices are particularly good. The organization notes, “If you are looking for a very concentrated calcium source, calcium-fortified orange or apple juices contain 300 milligrams or more of calcium per cup in a highly absorbable form.” Reader’s Digest notes that some orange juice brands are fortified with vitamin D3, which is derived from lanolin, a waxy substitute from sheep’s wool, are not vegan. Those fortified with D2, which comes from plants, are suitable for vegans.
According to PCRM, around 10 medium dried figs contains about 136 milligrams of calcium. They’re also rich in antioxidants and fiber, adds Healthline, making them a valuable addition to your diet. It notes, “dried figs contain more calcium than other dried fruits. A single ounce (28 grams) has 5 percent of your daily needs for this mineral.”
If you like the idea of packing in the figs to your diet but you’re not sure where to start, the good news is its a really versatile ingredient. Use it to make your own fruit and nut bars, or add it to a pie, or even a vegan cake, if you’re after something super sweet.
One cup of canned chickpeas will provide you with more than 100 milligrams of calcium, says PCRM. They’re also rich in other vitamins and minerals, including potassium, iron, magnesium, and protein. Chickpeas are just one member of the legume and bean family that can provide you with high levels of calcium.
PCRM explains, “beans are humble foods, and you might not know that they are loaded with calcium. There is more than 100 milligrams of calcium in a plate of baked beans. If you prefer chickpeas, tofu, or other beans or bean products, you will find plenty of calcium there, as well. These foods also contain magnesium, which your body uses along with calcium to build bones.”
9. Poppy Seeds
According to Healthline, seeds are “little nutritional powerhouses.” It notes that poppy seeds are particularly high in calcium, as are chia and sesame seeds. “Many seeds are good sources of calcium,” it explains. “For instance, 1 tablespoon (9 grams) of poppy seeds has 13 percent of the [Recommended Daily Intake], which the same serving of sesame seeds pack 9 percent of the [Recommended Daily Intake].
You can add seeds to your diet in a number of creative ways; sprinkle some poppy seeds onto your salad or bake them into biscuits, bread, or cake. The options are seemingly endless.