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Calcium is an essential nutrient for your health, especially for strong bones and teeth. Your body doesn’t naturally produce calcium, so it’s important to choose healthy calcium sources as part of a balanced diet. Many people don’t consume enough of this vital electrolyte, something that can put people, especially the elderly, at greater risk of certain health issues. So, which are the best calcium-rich vegan foods sources, and are there any tasty, calcium-rich fortified food combinations?

Getting Enough Calcium In Your Vegan Diet: Why Calcium Rich Food Is So Important

osteoporosis graphic | Activated YouCalcium is vital for bone health and strong teeth, and those two places are exactly where 99% of your body’s calcium is found. The other 1% of the calcium in your body helps with many vital functions:

  • Successful blood clotting requires calcium.1
  • Muscle movement also depends on calcium.2
  • Calcium helps support heart health.3
  • Differing calcium concentrations are triggers for chemical messaging within the brain.4

So, how much calcium do you need every day? It depends on who you ask. The World Health Organization found that calcium consumption of less than 400-500mg/day increases the risk of weak bones.5 The National Health Service asks Britons to ingest 700mg/day, while in Canada, 1000mg/day is encouraged for everyone, and 1200mg/day for those aged over 50.6,7

U.S. health officials advise up to 1300mg/day, depending on age and gender: 8

Age   Male Female
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  

 

In the past, the traditional advice was to drink cow’s milk for calcium. Obviously, this won’t work for vegans. But there’s good news: there are plenty of other ways to get this nutrient in your diet by eating calcium-rich vegan foods.

The Power Of Calcium And Vitamin D: Does This Vitamin Help Support Calcium Absorption?

vitamin D | Activated YouYour bones act as long-term storage for calcium. And when levels of calcium in the blood naturally fall, vitamin D is dispatched to the intestines, where it increases calcium absorption in the blood, and also to the kidneys, where it cuts down calcium loss. A deficiency of vitamin D may result in calcium leaving the bones and entering the bloodstream, resulting in compromised bone health.9 So, calcium and vitamin D are vital partners for our bodily wellness.

And let’s not forget vitamin K, which might play an important role in calcium regulation. Studies showed that vitamin K helps to protect against fractures and that a vitamin K deficiency can compromise bone density and strength.10

Finally, vitamin A also plays an important role in calcium regulation and bone health, directing the process of laying down calcium as bone.11

Vegan Dairy Alternatives Provide Plenty Of Calcium

There’s good news for those on a vegan diet, and others who don’t drink dairy milk – calcium can be found in a range of tasty foods, including plant foods that are perfect for vegans. So, as you’ll see, you don’t need to worry about dairy products when trying to gain enough calcium: 12,13,14,15

Non-Dairy Food Sources of Calcium
Food Mg / serving % DV
Orange juice, calcium fortified, 1 cup 349 27
Rice milk, almond milk, calcium fortified, 8 oz 299 23
Collard greens, fresh, cooked, 1/2 cup 142 14
Spinach, fresh, cooked, 1/2 cup * 142 14
Winged beans, 1 cup, cooked 175 26
Blackstrap molasses, 1 Tbsp 179 18
White beans, 1 cup, cooked 175 13
Mustard greens, fresh, cooked, 1/2 cup 142 14
Breakfast cereals, fortified with 10% of the calcium DV, 1 serving 130 10
Fortified coconut milk, 8oz 130 10
Tahini (sesame paste), 2 Tbsps 130 13
Okra, fresh, cooked, 1/2 cup 80 6
Chickpeas, cooked, 1 cup 175 9
Swiss chard, fresh, cooked, 1 cup 102 8
Turnip greens, fresh, boiled, ½ cup 99 8
Kale, fresh, cooked, 1/2 cup 80 6
Parsley, 1 cup 83 6
Chia seeds 1 Tablespoon 76 6
Chinese cabbage (bok choy), raw, shredded, 1/2 cup 142 14
Bread, white, 1 slice 73 6
Tangerines and oranges, 1 cup 72 6
Almonds, 1/4 cup 97 10
Kiwi fruit, 1 cup 61 5
Brussels sprouts, fresh, cooked, 1/2 cup 80 6
Tortilla, corn, one, 6” diameter 46 4
Blackberries, 1 cup 44 3
Tortilla, flour, one, 6” diameter 32 2
Bread, whole-wheat, 1 slice 30 2
Figs, raw, (one) 18 2
Kale, raw, chopped, 1 cup 24 2
Broccoli, raw, ½ cup 21 2

*Oxalates found in leafy green vegetables, especially spinach, may slow calcium absorption, but green vegetables are still an excellent calcium source.16

Calcium and vitamin D are added to orange juice and to breakfast cereals in a process called fortification, where vitamins and minerals not usually found in a given food are added to support consumer health. Vitamin D can be found naturally in mushrooms (especially cremini). Getting 10-30 minutes of sunlight three times a week should provide the requirement of 5mg of vitamin D.17

Vegan sources of Vitamin K include kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, pickled cucumber, and asparagus.18 Vitamin A can be found in butternut squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, kale, and spinach.19

Are There Other Ways To Boost Calcium?

strong bones | Activated YouMaking the right food choices is essential for balancing your calcium levels. But there are some other ways to retain calcium and reduce calcium loss:

  • Regular exercise helps retain bone calcium. Remaining sedentary can have the opposite result.20 
  • Reducing your alcohol intake. Excessive alcohol can interfere with calcium regulation and the action of vitamin D.21 
  • Curb your salt intake, too. When bodily salt levels are too high, it is flushed out in the urine, along with lots of useful calcium.22
  • Try cutting down on soda. Carbonated drinks can lead to lower bone density.23
  • Finally, lessen your caffeine intake, as this may help prevent bone loss.24

High-Calcium Combinations: Calcium Rich Vegan Foods That Taste Great Together

vegan diet | Activated YouEating combinations of foods rich in calcium and vitamins A, D, and K may help boost your calcium intake. Need some inspiration? Here are some flavorful combinations which can bring more calcium into your vegan diet: 

  • Dried figs and almonds combine well in homemade protein bars and granola
  • Beans and mustard greens work well together in simple stews and soups
  • Fortified non-dairy milk and almond butter make a great smoothie 25
  • Try overnight oatmeal with calcium-rich rhubarb and chia seeds 26
  • A leafy kale salad responds well to tahini dressing
  • Pour homemade almond milk over fortified cereal for a nutritious breakfast or snack 27
  • Chickpeas, fresh vegetables, and tahini make a great lunch bowl 28
  • Try making a sandwich from smashed white beans, avocado, and basil 29
  • Make vegan fried rice with vegetables and a peanut sauce 30
  • Use collard greens to make a tasty wrap for lunch 31

What About A Calcium Supplement? 

Your doctor can help you determine if you have a calcium deficiency. Going in search of more natural calcium is a great way to try new food choices and bring in combinations that are both healthy and delicious.

Learn More:

Vegan Myths And Misconceptions (And The Truth About Eating A Vegan Diet)

Spinach Facts: Health And Nutritional Benefits Of Spinach

Vegan Instant Pot Recipes: Quick And Easy One Pot Recipes For Plant-Based Eating


SOURCES:
1.  https://www.biology-pages.info/C/Clotting.html#:~:text=Platelet%20aggregation%20and%20fibrin%20formation,dozen%20other%20protein%20clotting%20factors
2. https://opentextbc.ca/anatomyandphysiology/chapter/10-3-muscle-fiber-contraction-and-relaxation/
3. https://kids.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/frym.2019.00065#:~:text=Calcium%20particles%20enter%20the%20heart,makes%20the%20heart%20pump%20blood.
4. https://www.brainfacts.org/brain-anatomy-and-function/cells-and-circuits/2018/calcium-sends-the-signal-110218
5. https://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/5_population_nutrient/en/index26.html
6. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/618167/government_dietary_recommendations.pdf
7. https://osteoporosis.ca/bone-health-osteoporosis/calcium-and-vitamin-d/calcium/#:~:text=Studies%20of%20older%20adults%20show,require%201%2C200%20mg%20calcium%20daily.
8. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Calcium-HealthProfessional/
9. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/calcium-and-milk/calcium-full-story/
10. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/vitaminK-HealthProfessional/
11. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-HealthProfessional/
12. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vegan-calcium-sources#10.-Blackstrap-Molasses-
13. https://www.myfooddata.com/articles/high-calcium-vegetables.php
14. https://www.pcrm.org/good-nutrition/nutrition-information/health-concerns-about-dairy/calcium-and-strong-bones
15. https://www.myfooddata.com/articles/high-calcium-fruits.php
16. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/calcium-and-milk/calcium-full-story/#calcium-from-milk
17. https://www.healthline.com/health/vegan-vitamin-d#vegan-sources
18. https://www.myfooddata.com/articles/food-sources-of-vitamin-k.php
19. https://www.myfooddata.com/articles/food-sources-of-vitamin-A.php
20. https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/bone-health/exercise/exercise-your-bone-health
21. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh26-4/292-298.htm
22. http://www.actiononsalt.org.uk/salthealth/factsheets/osteoporosis/
23. https://blog.mercy.com/carbonated-drinks-and-your-bones/
24. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/74/5/694/4737535
25. https://www.thefullhelping.com/15-calcium-rich-vegan-food-combinations/
26. https://www.thefullhelping.com/vanilla-chia-overnight-oats-easy-stewed-rhubarb/
27. https://www.thefullhelping.com/simple-homemade-almond-milk/
28. https://www.thefullhelping.com/how-to-create-a-perfect-vegan-lunch-bowl/
29. https://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-recipe/smashed-white-bean-avocado-and-basil-sandwich/
30. https://minimalistbaker.com/easy-vegan-fried-rice/
31. https://avocadopesto.com/raw-vegan-recipes-collard-wraps/