Look beyond the strong bones, because calcium does way more than that.
It’s necessary for muscle function, nerve transmission, intracellular signaling, and hormonal secretion. Supporting our bone structure and function is calcium’s primary role, as 99% of the body’s calcium is stored in both bones and teeth.
We remodel our homes to make things better, and our bones do the same thing.
Calcium is constantly being reabsorbed and deposited back into new bone. This process changes with age.
When we’re young and going through growth spurts, bone formation is exceeding the resorption process.
The opposite happens when we get older.
Bones are breaking down faster, resulting in bone loss and increased risk of osteoporosis. This is especially true for postmenopausal women.
Most of the U.S. is getting their calcium needs from dairy items, including milk, yogurt, and cheese.
Never fear, I’ve compiled a long list of plant-based foods that will make it a piece of cake to meet your calcium needs. And no, unfortunately, a cake is not one of them.
Calcium gets around – it’s found in some foods, added to others, in supplement form, and some medicines (for example, antacids).
Since vegan diets do not contain dairy, many studies have been done to see how this diet can impact bone health.
One 2018 meta-review evaluated over 20 studies, and it found that vegetarians and vegans had lower bone mineral density and higher fracture rates than individuals who consumed meat.
If you’re vegan, you don’t have to accept your fate of brittle bones. You just have to be aware of how much calcium you need and how to get it.
The table below shows the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) per Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of calcium (listed in milligrams).
|1 to 3 years||700 mg||700 mg|
|4 to 8 years||1000 mg||1000 mg|
|9 to 13 years||1300 mg||1300 mg|
|14 to 18 years||1300 mg||1300 mg||1300 mg||1300 mg|
|19 to 50 years||1000 mg||1000 mg||1000 mg||1000 mg|
|51 to 70 years||1000 mg||1200 mg|
|71+ years||1200 mg||1200 mg|
It can be easy to say, “I eat a lot of salad and spinach, so I should be good.”
The truth is, some greens can be high in oxalates (we’re looking at you, spinach), which are natural substances found in various foods.
These oxalates can actually bind to minerals in the gut (calcium) and prevent the body from absorbing them.
Thanks to Vegan Health and USDA’s Food Data Central, here’s a solid list of vegan-friendly foods and how much calcium you can expect.
One cup typically contains about 300 mg of calcium. Be sure to shake up the container before drinking to ensure the calcium isn’t settled to the bottom.
A sizable fresh orange will provide you about 74 mg of calcium. Fortified orange juice can give even more at about 300 mg per 8 ounces glass.
Make sure that it has calcium sulfate, which you should be able to see on the ingredients. ½ cup of this will offer you around 253 mg of calcium.
Depending on how you purchase and prepare the kale, the calcium amounts will vary. Fresh kale gives you the most at 100 mg per 1 cup. If you chop and boil that fresh kale, you’re looking at about 47 mg per ½ cup. Frozen kale that’s been boiled and drained will contain around 90 mg per ½ cup.
Such a simple option to add raw to oatmeal or smoothies. One tablespoon equals about 27 mg of calcium.
If you buy yourself a bunch of turnips, don’t toss those greens away. Use them in salads or sautee them up. Eating 1 cup raw will provide you 104 mg of calcium, whereas ½ cup boiled and drained contains 99 mg.
A great leafy green to add to Asian inspired dishes. ½ cup of chopped and boiled bok choy will contain around 79 mg of calcium while 1 cup of raw will provide 74 mg.
A portable snack to take with you on-the-go. ¼ cup of whole, dry almonds gives you 92 mg of calcium.
Craving something sweet? Skip the ice cream this time (dairy-free, of course) and grab a few figs. One fig (about 8 grams) will contain around 14 mg of calcium.
Beans, beans, the magical fruit. And a great vegan calcium source. Navy beans ½ cup 63 mg, beans refried pinto ½ cup 42 mg.
A great snack or topping for your salad. One cup, plain unsalted sunflower seeds, give you around 101 mg of calcium.
1 cup shelled contains around 98 mg.
Raw or cooked, take your pick! ½ cup boiled and drained broccoli gives you 31 mg, and 1 cup of raw contains 43 mg.
Another seed that packs a calcium punch. One cup contains 168 mg.
Fries, mashed, roasted - potatoes are such a versatile vegetable! Get these amazing orange vegetables into your day. 1 cup raw will give your body 40 mg of calcium.
One cup of raw collard greens contains around 84 mg of calcium, where ½ cup of boiled and drained will provide 134 mg.
½ cup of boiled and drained mustard greens may comprise about 83 mg.
Another versatile vegetable that can be eaten raw, cooked, or pickled. One cup raw contains around 82 mg of calcium.
Don’t wait for the fall to enjoy this vegetable. One cup provides around 40 mg.
Spice up your salads with this peppery flavored leafy green. One cup raw will give you around 32 mg of calcium.
These foods wouldn’t naturally have calcium added, but they are great options to choose from with the fortification process. The ranges of calcium can vary, with the highest being in the thousands to the lowest being closer to 200 mg.
It’s apparent that individuals who follow a vegan lifestyle are more susceptible to calcium deficiencies and, therefore, weaker bones, but education is critical.
This list of 20 vegan foods is a great place to start, giving you options ranging from fruit to vegetables, nuts, and seeds. You hit all the food groups here, except dairy obvi! 😏
If you’re still concerned you may not be meeting your calcium needs, have a chat with your doctor. Choosing a calcium supplement may be helpful to fill the gaps that food just isn’t meeting!