“Where do vegans get their calcium?” is a question that ranks right up there with, “Where do vegans get their protein?” Except, the one about calcium makes more sense. All foods contain protein, and the only foods that aren’t rich in it are the fruits.
I was actually asked the calcium question years ago by a neighbor. Being around seventy years old, she was, of course, convinced that you couldn’t get enough calcium in your diet unless you consumed dairy products. The fact is, the calcium in dairy products – with possibly the exception of unpasteurized milk – is much more difficult for the body to absorb than the calcium in plant foods.
You wouldn’t know that by hearing about the studies that concluded that vegans are more prone to hip fractures, and more broken bones in general, compared to non-vegans. Supposedly, this is due to a calcium deficiency because vegans don’t consume dairy products.
On the other hand, other studies show that dairy-product consuming countries have many more incidences of frail bones and osteoporosis than those countries where most people eat little meat and little to no dairy.
What gives? First of all, if you know anything about statistics, you know that they can be interpreted quite liberally. In other words, however the bias of the researcher leads them to be interpreted.
Second, bone health is more complicated than getting “enough calcium.” Exercise, vitamins D and K, and magnesium – along with twelve other nutrients – also all play a part in it.
Still, even though the calcium in dairy is more difficult to absorb, many non-vegans get enough calcium without having to think about it because they drink milk and/or eat cheese every day. Most vegans, however, have been told that if they just eat a variety of whole foods, they’ll get all the calcium they need.
Well, that depends which whole foods we’re talking about, as well how much a vegan pays attention to the other healthy bone factors I just mentioned.
The good news is, adults probably don’t need the 1,000 milligrams of calcium that the experts recommend. This recommendation came out of studies of individuals who were extremely deficient in the mineral. Still, you probably need at least half that, and it takes some planning to make sure you’re eating the right foods every day to get the calcium you need.
Where do vegans get their calcium? The best option.
The first thing you need to do is develop a taste for dark leafy green vegetables. Spinach is the best, followed by Swiss chard.
Wait, hold on. I know, you read somewhere that the compound known as oxalates that are found in spinach and Swiss chard impede the absorption of the calcium in those vegetables so you can’t count on them as calcium sources.
I’ve heard that too. But I’ve also read this, in my go-to nutrition handbook, “The World’s Healthiest Foods”:
…in every peer-reviewed research study I’ve seen, the ability of oxalates to lower calcium absorption definitely exists, but is relatively small, and definitely does not outweigh the ability of oxalate-containing foods to contribute calcium….So while it’s true that Spinach is a relatively high oxalate food, and equally true that oxalates can bind with calcium and lower its absorption, the research does not seem to support the position that spinach is a poor choice for increasing calcium…
Besides that, I recently read in another source that the presence of vitamin C helps to break the bind between oxalic acid and calcium. And guess what other nutrient spinach is very high in? Yep, vitamin C!
Swiss chard, by the way, has close to twice the vitamin C that spinach does. One cup cooked spinach provides almost 300 mg of calcium, and one cup cooked Swiss chard provides about 100 mg.
What about greens that are low in oxalic acid? If you can stand the strong flavor, one cup cooked collard greens provide over 220 mg of calcium. The same amount of bok choy provides 160 mg, and broccoli and kale provide between 70 and 93 mg of calcium, respectively, per cooked cup.
Do you have lambsquarters growing in your backyard? Let it spread…and then eat it! One cup cooked of this so-called weed provides as much calcium as collard greens, with a much milder flavor. Dandelion greens contain about half the calcium as lambsquarters. Yes, they taste bitter, but they are free if you avoid spraying your yard with herbicides.
Where do vegans get their calcium? Another option.
If you aren’t afraid of fat – which you shouldn’t be – one-fourth cup of sesame seeds, or two tablespoons tahini, provides 35% of the daily value of calcium, and one-fourth cup of almonds provides almost 10%. If you consume plant-based milks and/or tofu, choose the brands that are fortified with calcium. It won’t be the most bioavailable, but it’s better than getting deficient.
Where do vegans get their calcium? An example
Let me break this all down for you and offer a couple of ways you could get 600 mg of calcium every day. First, eat the equivalent of one cup cooked spinach every day, which provides about 300 mg of calcium. Add two tablespoons of soaked sesame seeds in your morning smoothie, which provides another 150 mg. Only 150 more mg to go! Have a couple tablespoons of soaked almonds for a snack, and if you’re eating a strictly whole-foods diet, the final fifty-something milligrams of calcium will come from the rest of your diet. It all adds up.
Another sample “vegans and calcium” menu plan
Here’s another way to get plenty of calcium. Include a glass of calcium-fortified almond milk with your breakfast. Have a meal that includes two cups of broccoli and calcium-fortified tofu. Include a snack that consists of two tablespoons of tahini. All those foods will bring you close to your daily calcium requirements, and if the rest of what you eat that day consists of whole foods, you should get enough calcium from them to meet the requirements.
What about calcium supplements for vegans?
If you’re like me, you may have someone in your household who despises both dark, leafy green vegetables and sesame seeds. Or, you may want to hedge your bets and make sure you’re getting enough calcium – especially if you tend to fall off the “whole foods” bandwagon a bit more often than you know is nutritionally sound.
In such cases, you might want to be interested to know the best calcium supplement. Let me tell you the worst type of calcium supplement first: the dry ones. The ones that come in a tablet or capsule form. Why?
The kind of calcium in those supplements can cause more harm than good.
The best kind of calcium supplement? One that is liquid. Angstrom calcium is one alternative, an herbal extract high in calcium (such as this one by Mountain Meadow Herbs) is another.
How do vegans get enough calcium? An important caution!
One critical warning before we wrap up: there are some things that can inhibit the absorption of calcium, depending on how much of them you put into your body. They are:
- acid-blocking medications
- certain other prescription medications
- animal proteins (I know, I know, this article is directed toward vegans, but every little reason you have not to eat animal products is good to know!)
You can do it!
Where do vegans get their calcium? Now you know…and you know that it’s not rocket science. You can do it! For an even more encouraging and in-depth information on the topic, click to this other website’s great article.