You’re probably aware that calcium is essential for growing strong bones and teeth. But how do you get calcium if you don’t eat dairy products? Since your body doesn’t produce calcium naturally, it’s important to eat foods that contain calcium in order to get enough of it. If you’re vegan, this means you may have to be a bit more conscious of your calcium intake and learn some of the best ways to meet your daily calcium requirements. And it doesn’t necessarily require taking a calcium supplement. Fortunately, there are many vegetables, fruits, and grains that are calcium-rich and easy to incorporate into your diet.
How Much Calcium Do You Need And What Are The Vegan Sources Of Calcium?
Of course, calcium is important for growing kids and teenagers, but did you know that adults need significant amounts of calcium, too? Your body uses calcium every day for a variety of functions in addition to keeping your bones strong. For most adults, U.S. health officials recommend consuming at least 1000 mg of calcium a day.1
|0–6 months||200 mg||200 mg|
|7–12 months||260 mg||260 mg|
|1–3 years||700 mg||700 mg|
|4–8 years||1,000 mg||1,000 mg|
|9–13 years||1,300 mg||1,300 mg|
|14–18 years||1,300 mg||1,300 mg|
|19–50 years||1,000 mg||1,000 mg|
|51–70 years||1,000 mg||1,200 mg|
|71+ years||1,200 mg||1,200 mg|
The traditional advice was to drink three glasses of cow’s milk a day, but there are many vegan-friendly sources of calcium as well.
Some foods naturally contain calcium, while others are fortified with it. Natural sources of calcium include legumes such as beans, peas, and lentils, some nuts, seeds, some leafy greens, and some fruits.
Calcium-fortified foods are regular foods that have calcium added to them to make them healthier. These include some cereals, almond milk, coconut milk, and orange juices.2,3,4,5,6
Selected Food Sources of Calcium
|Food||Mg per serving||% DV (1300mg)|
|Orange juice, calcium fortified, 1 cup||349||27|
|Collard greens, 1 cup||268||21|
|Spinach, 1 cup||245||19|
|Kale, 1 cup, cooked||172||13|
|Mustard greens, 1 cup||165||13|
|White beans, 1 cup||161||12|
|Chinese cabbage (bok choy), cooked, 1 cup||158||12|
|Breakfast cereals, fortified with 10% of calcium DV, 1 serving||130||10|
|Turnip greens, fresh, boiled, ½ cup||99||8|
|Kale, fresh, cooked, 1 cup||94||7|
|Chia seeds, 1 tablespoon||76||6|
|Tortilla, corn, one, 6” diameter||46||4|
|Tortilla, flour, one, 6” diameter||32||2|
|Broccoli, raw, ½ cup||21||2|
Vegan Calcium: Easy Ways To Fulfil Your Calcium Needs On A Vegan Diet
Being on a vegan diet doesn’t mean giving up great tasting food. Calcium-rich foods are easy to incorporate into your vegan diet for any meal. Here are some great ways to increase your calcium intake in all your meals:
- Update certain foods with their fortified version such as cereal, orange juice(watch the sugar), and almond/coconut milk. Add nuts, seeds, and fruits (like blackberries) for extra calcium.
- Make a smoothie using fortified non-dairy milk, almond butter, fruits, and seeds.
- Make overnight oatmeal with calcium-rich rhubarb and chia seeds.
- Make a lunch bowl with chickpeas, fresh spinach, vegetables, and tahini.
- Make a leafy kale salad with tahini dressing and almonds.
- Fill a flour tortilla with collard greens, white bean spread, and grilled veggies.
- Put together a chic appetizer plate with white bean spread, dried fig preserves, and almonds.
- Use your slow cooker to make a simple stew with beans and mustard greens.
- Try Asian flavors with a vegan fried rice with Chinese cabbage, broccoli, and a peanut sauce.
Can You Get Enough Calcium Intake Without A Dairy Product?
While people have traditionally relied on dairy products to ensure their calcium intake, it’s easy to fulfill your daily calcium requirement without dairy.
As we saw above, Americans between 19 and 50 years old are advised to consume at least 1000 mg of calcium each day. To show how easy that is to achieve, here’s what an average day might look like:
- A breakfast of fortified orange juice, cereal, rice or almond milk, a quarter cup of almonds, and a half cup of blackberries provides a hefty dose of calcium before you’ve even started your day.7,8,9,10
- For lunch, a wrap with grilled veggies, spinach leaves, and white bean spread in a flour tortilla with a tangerine for dessert provides plenty of calcium.11,12,13,14
- Dinner with a stew of white beans, mustard greens, and a krispy slice of bread on the side will fill you up and give you a calcium boost.15,16,17
Lifestyle Changes To Support Strong Bones
In addition to foods that add calcium to your body, it is important to be aware of other factors that affect your bone health. Exercise has been shown to be an important factor in maintaining bone calcium and density. Weight-bearing exercises such as walking, hiking, running, and even dancing may help strengthen bones. Of course, you’ll always want to check with your doctor before beginning any kind of exercise program.18
Some foods can be harmful to bone health and should be consumed only in moderation. If you’re worried about your calcium levels, cut down on:
- Alcohol, which can inhibit calcium regulation and vitamin D.19
- Salt, which may flush calcium out in your urine.20
- Soda and carbonated drinks, which may decrease bone density.21
- Caffeine, which may lead to bone loss.22
Your Bone Health: Calcium And Vitamin D May Help Support Healthy Bone Density
Calcium and vitamin D work together to build a strong, healthy skeleton. Dietary calcium strengthens and hardens bones, but to ensure calcium absorption, the mineral needs a little help on the journey from your gut to your bones.
That’s where vitamin D comes in. Vitamin D harvests calcium from foods and makes them available so that your body can use it to form bones. You need both calcium and vitamin D for the calcium absorption process to work.23
But calcium isn’t just needed for strong bones. Your body uses it every day to:
- Move muscles
- Clot blood when you get a cut
- Support chemical messaging in your brain
- Help keep your heart healthy24,25,26,27
Vitamin D helps your body extract calcium from the foods you eat. If your body doesn’t get the calcium it needs from food, it will take it from your bones. Over time, this may weaken your skeleton and lead to broken bones and other serious health problems.28
The good news, your body can naturally produce vitamin D through exposure to sunlight. Going for a walk outside each day may provide you with all the sunlight you need to maintain healthy levels of vitamin D. Vitamin D is also often found in fortified cereals and rice, oat, and almond milks. This aids calcium absorption.29
Enjoy The Variety Of Vegan Calcium Sources
WIth a little planning, it’s easy to maintain healthy bones while being vegan. Simple dietary changes can have a big effect on the amount of calcium that you get on a daily basis.
So, the next time someone asks you how you reach your daily calcium requirement on a vegan diet, you’ll know just what to say.
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