Finding vegan sources of calcium isn’t as difficult as you might think. My mom figured out when I was born that her, my brother and I were all allergic to milk.
She made it her mission to make sure we had enough calcium since there’s so much pressure for dairy to be the main source of calcium. So I’ve been conscious of vegan sources of calcium since I was little.
Surprise! I still have bones. And they’re pretty strong!
I was a competitive figure skater until I went to university, which involved falling on the ice (a LOT!!!). And I didn’t break a bone that whole time.
It turns out that the best way to get useable calcium is to eat a variety of plant foods, like quinoa, chickpeas, sesame seeds and broccoli. The dark green leafy vegetables are particularly good sources.
(Even the Harvard School of Public Health is saying vegan sources of calcium are the best.)
An interesting thing to note is that although dairy milk gets touted as a source of vitamin D, it’s only in there when it’s added as a supplement. So non-dairy milks that are fortified with vitamin D are just as good a source, and so are vitamin D supplements.
Vegan Sources of Calcium:
- Broccoli: 1 cup has 43mg (from only 24 calories). Try it in this peanut butter stir fry recipe
- Dandelion greens: 1 cup has 103mg (from only 25 calories).
- Collard greens: 1 cup has 52mg (from only 11 calories). Try it in place of swiss chard in these yummy rolls
- Kale: 1 cup has 90mg (from only 33 calories). Try it baked into these little ginger-dressed sweet potato nests, with avocado cream for brunch
- Tempeh: 100g serving has 111mg. Learn how to make an easy curry-spiced tempeh
- Chickpeas: 1 cup (cooked) has 80mg. Try them in this creamy chickpea salad, for sandwiches or wrap it in some collard greens
- Navy Beans: 1 cup (cooked) has 126mg. Try them mashed with avocado for a quick and healthy lunch
- Quinoa: 1 cup (cooked) has 31.5mg. Try it in this chocolate-banana breakfast recipe
- Sesame seeds: 1 oz (28g) has 273mg. Try them on a salad with this miso salad dressing recipe
- Almonds: 1 oz (28g, 23 nuts) has 75mg. Try putting them in this homemade chocolate recipe
- Tahini: 1 Tbsp has 64mg. Try it in this tahini salad dressing recipe
- Molasses: 1 Tbsp has 41mg. Try it in this chocolate gingerbread pudding recipe
If you want the ultimate high-mineral treat, try my mineral-rich chocolate cupcakes, which I created specifically to help you get lots of calcium, magnesium and potassium to help with muscle cramps.
Data from nutritiondata.comWatch the video
How much calcium do we need?
Focus on those wonderful vegan sources of calcium above – but because calcium is such a large nutrient, it’s hard to get enough from food alone. Average food intake among vegans is 500-600mg, and my meal plans have about 700mg per day. The recommendation for adults is 1000mg (up to 1300mg for older adults). That means a supplement to boost up that extra 300mg is most likely a good idea.
Now, the RDA is based on an absorption rate of 25%, meaning we only need to absorb 250mg of calcium per day. So if you can manage to boost your absorption rate over 25%, you may not need the full RDA. I know plenty of people who have perfectly fine blood calcium levels an bone density, without taking calcium supplements. But there’s no way to know other than blood and bone density tests, and most plant foods hover around the 20-25% absorption rate.
There’s no harm in taking a small calcium supplement (less than 1400mg), so I prefer being safe than sorry. I just want to be healthy, and maintain bone mass as I get older. It’s important to get the right type and to get a supplement that includes other nutrients so that the calcium is absorbed and used properly.
Fortified foods, like non-dairy milks or orange juice, are an easy way to get extra calcium. That doesn’t mean that all almond milk or orange juice has calcium – just the ones that have had a calcium supplement added to them. And it doesn’t mean they’re any better than taking a supplement.
The best forms for supplements are capsules (vegans should look for cellulose capsules instead of gelatin), liquids or powders that dissolve in water or juice. Chewable supplements are ok, but be sure to chew them well to break them down in your mouth.
Hard tablets are the worst – they’re really hard for you to break down and use, so most of the calcium in them will just pass on through.
Calcium works along with magnesium, vitamin D and vitamin K in your body. Taking a supplement that has all of them together can help make sure the extra calcium you’re taking gets used properly. Here are my favorites.
Pure Vegan Calcium/Magnesium: This supplement gives you calcium and mangnesium in highly absorbable forms, with enough elemental calcium equivalent in 2 capsules to give that 300mg boost, along with 66IU of vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol). That may be enough vitamin D for someone with normal levels to maintain, along with what’s in a multivitamin and some exposure to sunlight, rather than taking a separate vitamin D supplement.
MRM Vegan Bone Maximizer: If you have started to develop bone health deterioration, osteoporosis or osteopenia this is a great option. It includes highly absorbable forms of calcium and other bone health nutrients, along with nutrients to help absorption (like vitamin C). It includes vegan vitamin D3, vitamin K, zinc and boron for a total bone health package.
One thing women aren’t always told, until it’s too late, is that a big part of building and maintaining bone mas to prevent the onset of osteoporosis is to get regular weight-bearing exercise. That means exercise that puts full weight on your bones – hiking, running, skipping. Strength training is also great because it builds lean body mass, which also helps maintain bone density through the tension of your structural muscles on your bones.
Women reach peak bone mass in their early thirties, and then it slowly declines from there, with an increase just after menopause. So our best strategy is to build up as much bone mass as we can until our early thirties, and then continue to prevent bone loss as much as we can. But also recognize that since our genes play a big role, we can only do our best and still may lose bone mass even if we do everything perfectly.
» Harvard School of Public Health on Calcium
» NutritionFacts.org on Calcium
» VeganHealth.org on Calcium & Vit D
» Dr. Michael Greger‘s synopsis of research on animal protein’s effect on calcium levels in urine
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