Many people are under the assumption that getting enough calcium in a plant-based diet is a challenge due to the fact that you’re no longer consuming dairy products. This is because we’ve been trained via media and marketing to believe that the only true genuine source of calcium is dairy. Plus, if you switch to plant-based sources of calcium you’re also avoiding the downsides of dairy products including possible antibiotics, added hormones, and dairy-based trans fats.
Yes, it’s true that dairy contains calcium.
It’s also true that plant-based eaters should be more aware of their calcium intake.
On the other hand, it’s a myth that plant-based calcium consumption is a challenge.
Most plant-based foods are naturally imbued with varying amounts of calcium, therefore it’s all about making sure you’re plant-based food selection is diverse, varied, and filled with color! From soybeans to lentils to ancient grains and even a bit of natural, plant-based sweetener, you’ll find a plethora of calcium-rich foods in the plant world!
What is Calcium?
We’ve all heard the adage that kids should drink their milk to grow healthy strong bones!
Yes, it’s true that calcium is an essential component of a balanced diet — especially for children and young adults who are banking calcium in their bones for later in life — yet it turns out that calcium does much more than build strong healthy bones. On top of that, research is finding that milk isn’t really the best source for your recommended intake of calcium.
Alright, so what is it?
Calcium is a “nutrient that all living organisms need … [and happens to be] the most abundant mineral in the body.” About 99 percent of the “body’s calcium is in the bones and teeth,” leading to the conclusion that calcium is vital for building and maintaining strong bones. With that said, calcium is also necessary for “muscle movement and cardiovascular function,” as well as “maintaining healthy communication between the brain and other parts of the body.” Calcium also plays a partnering role with many enzymes making it an enzyme co-factor.
Health Benefits of Calcium
Calcium plays many roles in the body, which leads to some pretty great health benefits. When you consume enough calcium to meet those recommended daily intake requirements, you’ll find your body works better than ever. Plus, you may not notice it in your teens, twenties, thirties, or even forties, but as you age, if you’ve consumed enough calcium on a daily basis, your bones will remain strong and fortified!
This is an obvious and well-known benefit, yet one that can’t be emphasized enough.
Calcium is “essential for the development, growth, and maintenance of bone.” Yet, it’s not exactly as simple as that. Once you hit adulthood and stop growing, “calcium continues to help maintain the bones and slow down bone density loss, which is a natural part of the aging process.” This means that the more quality calcium consumption you get as a young person, the healthier your bones will be as you grow older.
And this is incredibly important to avoid osteoporosis!
Osteoporosis is a condition that “causes bones to become weak and brittle — so brittle that a fall or even mild stresses such as bending over or coughing can cause a fracture.” This can be a fatal issue for the elderly. Even if you are healthy otherwise, a fall that breaks a hip can cause a cascade of issues that may be terminal.
Alright, what exactly are we talking about when we say muscle contraction?
This is a term that refers to the “activation of tension-generating sites within muscle fibers.” Basically, when you use your muscle to pick up something heavy — pretty much anything from lifting weights to holding a heavy book — you’re using muscle contraction.
Calcium is an essential part of this process, helping to “regulate muscle contraction,” which is simply habitual to all of us! Specifically, when a “nerve stimulates a muscle, the body releases calcium” and this calcium “helps the proteins in muscle carry out the work of contraction.”
Blood Clotting and Muscle Function
Another lesser-known health benefit of proper calcium consumption has to do with our cardiovascular system, specifically blood clotting and muscle function.
While the process of blood clotting is incredibly complex involving a variety of chemicals, minerals, and vitamins, — such as vitamin D and K — researchers have found that calcium is definitely one of the most important minerals to make the entire process a success.
When it comes to your muscles, calcium is a necessary component of your heart. Specifically, calcium “relaxes the smooth muscle that surrounds blood vessels” and there have been links made between adequate calcium consumption and lower blood pressure.
Along with these mainstay health benefits of calcium consumption, there are a few health benefits that most people aren’t aware of that are linked to the proper consumption of calcium. These include lower blood pressure in young people and pregnant women, improved cholesterol values, and a lower risk of certain types of colorectal tumors.
What is Calcium Deficiency?
Now that we know that adequate calcium intake looks like, what about a calcium deficiency? Recognizing the signs and symptoms of a calcium deficiency — also called hypocalcemia — may actually be more important than recognizing the health benefits, especially for plant-based eaters. Understanding what to look out for is a key step in making sure you’re getting enough calcium every day from those plant-based foods!
While old age is one of the most common factors that increase your risk of hypocalcemia, it’s not the only one. Calcium deficiency can also be caused by poor calcium intake over a long period of time, certain medications that decrease absorption, a dietary intolerance, — such as lactose intolerance or a dairy allergy — hormonal changes, — particularly in women — pancreatitis, low levels of vitamin D, and even certain genetic factors.
Those that suffer from a very mild case of calcium deficiency may not see any symptoms that would alert them to the issue. This is why being mindful of your diet is a key part of adequate calcium consumption.
Those that have a severe case generally experience a variety of mild to severe symptoms including confusion, memory loss, muscle spasms, numbness, — especially tingling in the hands, feet, and face — depression, hallucinations, muscle cramps, weak or brittle nails, and easily fractured bones.
Recommended Daily Intake of Calcium for Adults
So, how much is enough?
Of course, this is dependent on your age and gender, but luckily the government has provided some recommended daily intake guidelines to help us along the way to better calcium consumption!
Adult women over the age of 51 should be consuming around 1,200 milligrams daily, while those between the ages of 19 and 50 are recommended to consume 1,000 milligrams daily, and young adults and teenagers between the ages of nine and 18 should get around 1,300 milligrams daily.
Adult men over the age of 71 should be consuming around 1,200 milligrams daily and those between the ages of 19 and 70 years of age are recommended to consume around 1,000 milligrams daily. Younger males between the ages of nine and 18 should consume the same amount of females, around 1,300 milligrams daily.
10 Calcium-Loaded Plant-Based Foods
You’re loaded with all the information regarding what calcium is, what it does for our bodies, what happens when we don’t get enough, and how much you should be aiming for based on your age and gender. Now it’s time to figure out how to meet these demands on a plant-based diet. Luckily, we’ve got you covered! Here are 10 great sources of plant-based calcium to get you started! Remember, these aren’t the only sources available to you! See the additional reference links at the bottom of the article for more calcium-rich, dairy-free, plant-based options.
Most vegans love tofu for multiple reasons. It’s a great meat substitute. It’s great to throw in a blender for some extra protein. It’s an excellent thickener for those nutrient-dense soups and stews.
Yet, tofu is also an excellent source of plant-based calcium! In fact, one of the main components of tofu is calcium phosphate, which means for every 100 grams of tofu you’ll get around 350 milligrams of calcium phosphate.
It’s not just tofu either. Most soybean products — soybeans, edamame, tempeh, and natto, included — are all great sources of plant-based calcium offering high percentages of your recommended daily intake. One cup of cooked soybeans has around “18.5 [percent] of the RDI,” one cup of edamame has around 27.6 percent RDI, 100 grams of tempeh has around 11 percent RDI, and 100-grams of natto has around twice the amount of natto.
When choosing a soy product, make sure to choose one that is non-GMO, organic, fermented, and as minimally processed as possible for the most calcium density!
Beans have always been touted as a wonderful plant-based food for their protein content, but did you know they’re also an excellent source of calcium? Of course, the amount of calcium you get depends on the variety of bean you choose. With that said, you can’t really go wrong choosing your favorite variety!
For instance, each type of bean variety offers a good amount of your recommended daily intake of calcium such as white and navy beans, which offer 13 percent per cooked cup, black beans, which offer 11 percent per cooked cup, chickpeas or garbanzo beans, which offer nine percent per cooked cup, and kidney beans, which offer seven percent per cooked cup.
Try a few of these bean-rich recipes: Lemony White Bean Dip, Hearty Black Bean Soup, Curried Kidney Bean Stew, Cowboy Caviar, or this Nourishing Black Bean Burger With Thousand Island Dressing.
Another protein champion in the legume family, which also happens to be a great source of plant-based! While lentils aren’t necessarily as rich in calcium as beans are, they are a wonderful addition to any meal for a boost in calcium. One cup of cooked lentils offers around 37 milligrams of calcium, which equates to around four percent of your recommended daily intake.
Of course, you’re also getting a host of other nutrients including protein, dietary fiber, “iron, zinc, potassium, magnesium, and folate.”
When you think of nuts, your mind probably goes instantly to that healthy fat content. Yet, there are a few nuts that also offer a slew of minerals. If you’re looking for calcium-rich nuts, look no further than almonds! It’s true that all nuts contain small amounts of calcium, yet almonds will give you the most bang for your buck. In a fourth of a cup of almonds, you’ll get around 35 grams of calcium, which equates to around 10 percent of your recommended daily intake.
5. Sesame Seeds
Seeds and nuts generally go hand-in-hand. If you’re not a nut person, go with seeds! If you’re not a seed person, go with nuts! If you love them both, then you’ve got it made in the shade my friend.
If you’re looking to boost your intake of calcium with a bit of seed action, start out with sesame seeds. You can buy these teeny little nibbles plain, toasted, or roasted and add them to salads, smoothies, or sprinkle them atop pretty much any cooked meal. With that said, if you’re really trying to get your nutrient bang-for-your-buck with sesame seeds opt-in on tahini butter! For every two tablespoons of tahini butter, you’ll get a whopping 130 milligrams of calcium, which equates to about 13 percent of your recommended daily intake.
For those that aren’t sesame seed fans, give chia seeds and/or flax seeds a go!
Both of these seeds offer around five to six percent of your recommended daily intake per every two tablespoons. Definitely not as much as tahini butter, but still a decent amount when combined with other calcium-rich foods.
Another surprising source of calcium are ancient grain! While they’re not the richest source of plant-based calcium, certain ancient grains definitely add to your daily intake and offer a great way to shake your calcium intake up a bit.
With that said, it pays to be picky!
When choosing an ancient grain based on its calcium content go for amaranth and/or teff. Both of these are gluten-free and offer around 12 percent of your recommended daily intake of calcium per cooked cup. And, it’s not hard to incorporate a cup into your diet! These ancient grains are perfect wheat flour substitutes in traditional baking recipes such as pancakes, waffles, bread, and even muffins and cakes! In the grain form, amaranth makes great on-the-go morning porridge recipes as well!
Try a few of these amaranth-rich recipes: Amaranth Yogurt Pop with Raspberries, Amaranth and Garlic Crackers, Moroccan-Spiced Vegetable and Tempeh Stew with Lemon Almond and Amaranth, or this Maple Maca Amaranth Porridge.
If you’re looking to get a bit adventurous in your plant-based diet, think about adding some seaweed to your weekly regimen.
Seaweed is not only one of the only really great sources of iodine — necessary for “the proper function of the thyroid gland” — but it’s also an excellent source of plant-based calcium. For instance, wakame “provides around 126 mg, or 12 [percent] of the RDI per cup,” while kelp offers around 14 percent of your RDI per cup.
Many of those dark leafy greens in your salads are actually rich with calcium! Yet, the champion of the leafy green calcium contest goes to spinach.
In one cup of raw spinach, you’ll get around 30 milligrams of calcium, which equates to around three percent of your recommended daily intake of calcium. While this may not sound like much, if you think about a typical spinach salad, you’re probably using between two to three cups, which ups that RDI to around eight percent.
9. Cruciferous Vegetables
Vegetables aren’t the most reliable source of calcium if you’re looking to increase your intake dramatically, yet they are definitely a source of plant-based calcium to consider! This is especially relevant to those who are on an exclusively plant-based diet, which means you need to source all of your calcium directly from plant-based sources. Every source counts!
So, what’s the best place to get vegetable-based calcium?
Start out with your cruciferous options such as cabbage, okra, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. Along with a slew of other incredibly powerful antioxidants and phytochemicals, these veggies also top the list of calcium-rich options. One half-cup of cooked cabbage, okra, broccoli, or Brussels sprouts offers around three to six percent of your recommended daily intake of calcium.
10. Blackstrap Molasses
Maybe something a little sweet to add to your plant-based calcium list?
Blackstrap molasses is a great natural sweetener due to the fact that it’s one of the most nutrient-dense foods in the plant-based kingdom. Yes, it’s high in sugar — eat in moderation! — because it’s made from sugar cane that has been “boiled three times.” With that said, while cans sugar is pretty much stripped of nutrients, blackstrap molasses is rich in vitamins and minerals, including calcium!
One tablespoon of blackstrap molasses offers around 179 milligrams of calcium, which is around 18 percent of your recommended daily intake.
On top of that, the “nutrients in 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of blackstrap molasses can also help cover around [five to 15 percent] of your daily requirements for iron, selenium, vitamin B6, magnesium, and manganese.”
Looking for more plant-based calcium-related knowledge? Check out a few of these incredibly informative articles to get your education on!
Learn How to Cook Plant-Based Meals at Home!
Reducing your meat intake and eating more plant-based foods is known to help with chronic inflammation, heart health, mental wellbeing, fitness goals, nutritional needs, allergies, gut health and more! Dairy consumption also has been linked many health problems, including acne, hormonal imbalance, cancer, prostate cancer and has many side effects.
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