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We all know that calcium is good for our bones and milk is a great source of calcium. But what happens to our bones if we don’t drink milk due to dairy allergies or diets, such as a vegan diet? Vegans may be at risk for developing calcium deficiency, but luckily, there are plenty of vegan calcium-rich foods that are not made with dairy.
How Should Vegans Get Calcium – Supplements or Food?
The long-term side effects of supplement usage and the findings that nutrients might not fully make it into the body do not make calcium supplements an appealing option. Because supplements are not the best option for vegans (or anyone, really), calcium-rich foods remain the only way to efficiently get calcium.
Be aware that calcium does not work alone, and in addition to getting your recommended daily intake of calcium you must also get enough vitamin D for optimal bone health. Vitamin D aids the absorption of calcium, and without enough vitamin D, all the calcium you ingest may not actually be absorbed into the body. Vitamin D should be acquired through fortified foods and natural sunlight.
The most obvious source of calcium is dairy products, like milk and cheese, which don’t adhere to a vegan diet. So, what are the best non-diary calcium sources and plant-based calcium sources?
There are many fruits, vegetables, and legumes that are easy to fit in a vegan diet and will help you reach the recommended 1,000 mg of calcium a day. Luckily, vegetarian and vegan diets are becoming more popular so there are many non-dairy products that are fortified, like juices and dairy-free milk.
|Food||Milligrams (mg) per serving||Percent DV|
|Dried Figs, 1/2 cup||120||12|
|Orange, sections, 1 cup||70||7|
|Apricots, sliced, 1 cup||21||2|
|Kiwi, sliced, 1 cup||60||6|
|Strawberries, sliced, 1 cup||27||3|
|Nuts & Seeds|
|Almond Butter, 2 tbs||80||8|
|Almonds, 1 oz||80||8|
|Chia Seeds, 2 tbs||179||18|
|Sunflower Seeds, dried, 1 cup||109||11|
|Sesame Seeds, 1 tbs||88||9|
|Poppy Seeds, 1 tbs||127||13|
|Navy Beans, cooked, 1/2 cup||65||6,5|
|Pinto Beans, cooked, 1/2 cup||50||5|
|Wing Beans, cooked, 1 cup||244||24|
|White Beans, cooked, 1 cup||161||16|
|Collard Greens, cooked, 1 cup||270||27|
|Turnip Greens, cooked, 1 cup||200||20|
|Mustard Greens, cooked, 1 cup||160||16|
|Bok Choy, cooked, 1 cup||150||15|
|Kale, cooked, 1 cup||100||10|
|Edamame, shelled, cooked, 1 cup||100||10|
|Broccoli, cooked, 1 cup||60||6|
|Broccoli Rabe. 1 cup||100||10|
|Sweet Potato, cubed, 1 cup||40||4|
|Okra, 1 cup||82||8|
|Butternut Squash, cubed, 1 cup||67||6|
|Arugula, 1 cup||32||3|
|Soy Milk, fortified, 8 oz||293||29|
|Almond Milk, fortified, 8 oz||450||45|
|Orange Juice, fortified, 8 oz||350||35|
|Breakfast Cereal, Fortified, 1 cup||250-1000||25-100|
|Oats, instant, 1 serving||100||10|
|White Bread, 1 slice||73||7|
|Whole Wheat Bread, 1 slice||30||3|
|Corn Tortilla, one 6″ diameter||46||5|
|Flour Tortilla, one 6″ diameter||32||3|
|Tempeh, 4 oz||120||12|
|Extra Firm Tofu, 3 oz||100-150||10-15|
|Firm Tofu, made with calcium sulfate, 1/2 cup||253||25|
1,000 mg doesn’t seem like such a big number anymore, right? Your body (especially your bones) will thank you after adding these vegan calcium-rich foods into your diet.
How Much Calcium and Vitamin D Do You Need?
The recommended daily intake of calcium for adults ages 19 to 50 is 1,000 mg, and for women ages 51-70 the recommended daily intake raises to 1,200 mg. All adults over the age of 70 are recommended to intake 1,200 mg of calcium.
This goal might seem intimidating without the help of dairy, especially when just one serving of milk is 30% of the daily value. But do not worry! There are many calcium-rich plant-based foods and drinks that will help you reach 1,000 mg of calcium on the daily basis.
As for vitamin D, adults 19-70 should have 600 International Units (IU) a day, and adults over the age of 71 are recommended to have 800 IU. Many calcium-rich foods are fortified with vitamin D, and our bodies also naturally produce it when we get sun on our bare skin. Just be sure to safely get those sun rays.
|Daily Recommended Calcium||Daily Recommended Vitamin D|
|Adults, age 19-50||1,000 mg||600 IU|
|Women, age 51-70||1,200 mg||600 IU|
|Men, age 51-70||1,000 mg||600 IU|
|Adults, age 71+||1,200 mg||800 IU|
Symptoms of Calcium Deficiency for Vegans
Calcium deficiency symptoms will remain similar regardless of your diet. However, it’s especially important for vegans to be mindful of these symptoms because they run the risk of being deficient of other nutrients, like vitamin B12, iron, and zinc.
Symptoms of calcium deficiency include:
- Muscle aches and cramps, especially in the legs
- Numbness and tingling in the hands, arms, legs, and feet
- Dry skin
- Dry, broken, or brittle nails
- Severe premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms
If you are at high-risk for calcium deficiency, these symptoms should be followed up with a visit to your doctor. If calcium deficiency goes on for too long, there is a much higher risk for osteoporosis, severe dental problems, depression, chronic joint and muscle pain, and bone fractures.
Why is Calcium Important?
There are many risks attributed to not getting enough calcium in our diets, including weakened bones. A longitudinal study that followed participants for almost 20 years found that bone fractures and osteoporosis cases were higher in participants with the lower calcium intakes. Additionally, one study found that vegans suffered more bone fractures because of their lack of dairy intake, compared to meat eaters, fish eaters and vegetarians.
Calcium Rich Vegan Baking Tips
Poppy seeds and molasses are two common baking ingredients that are rich in calcium. There are so many nutritional benefits of poppy seeds, including how rich in calcium they are. Just one tablespoon has 13% of the daily value. Molasses can be used as a sweetener and has 43 mg of calcium for one tablespoon. Use these calcium-rich foods in vegan breads, cakes, and other treats to satisfy your sweet-tooth and your recommended calcium at the same time.
While there have been multiple studies on the importance of calcium for bone health, it also proves to be protective of the heart and cardiovascular system. This only applies for calcium-rich foods, though. Nutrients in pill form cannot be processed by our bodies the same way as when they are ingested from a food source, and there is even evidence that calcium supplements may damage the heart by raising the risk of plaque buildup in arteries. It is possible that the calcium from supplements doesn’t even make it to the bones, and most of it excretes in our urine.