Individuals who follow a plant-based diet usually hear some of the same questions over and over again, such as where do you get your protein; aren’t you worried about getting enough calcium; and, if you don’t eat red meat, won’t you be deficit in iron? Well, today we will debunk one of these questions—should you be worried about not receiving enough calcium?
When people think of calcium, they are most likely thinking strong bones. However, calcium has other important physiologic roles in our bodies like transmitting nerve impulses, contracting muscles and clotting blood.
Due to smart marketing by the dairy industry, most consumers think of milk, not plants, for strong bones. However, plants can be a great source of calcium. In fact, calcium absorption from milk is about 30 percent, whereas calcium absorption from kale and broccoli can be as high as 60–65 percent! Calcium-fortified soy milk is similar to cow's with an absorption of about 30 percent. Getting enough calcium on a plant-based diet is not only possible, but it's likely you'll receive other important minerals involved with bone-building through plants like vitamin K, manganese and magnesium. And don't forget to spend about 15–20 minutes daily in the sunshine to get enough vitamin D!
Here are 8 common plant-based food sources that can provide enough calcium to meet your needs.
Seeds have a compound called phytates, which are antioxidants that can be heart-healthy and prevent lifestyle diseases. However, they also inhibit mineral absorption, including calcium. To reduce the amount of phytates in seeds, like sunflower and pumpkin seeds, you can soak them for 8–12 hours, then drain them, to make calcium more bioavailable.
Poppy, sesame, and chia seeds are among the highest in calcium value! One tablespoon of poppy seeds have 126 mg of calcium.
Beans also have phytates. Soak dry beans before cooking for 12–24 hours to allow the calcium to be more bioavailable. For canned beans, simply rinse them before using to rid of any phytates in the brine. Certain varieties of beans such as navy, winged, and white beans have higher calcium amounts than others. Navy beans contain 125 mg per cup, white beans contain 130 mg per cup, and winged beans contain 244 mg per cup.
3. Dark Green Leafy Vegetables
Need another reason to consume dark green leafy vegetables? Collard greens contain 266 mg of calcium per cup and kale contains 94 mg of calcium per cup. While cooked spinach contains 136 mg per cup, they contain oxalates, which, like phytates, may limit absorption of calcium. Other high oxalate greens include dandelion greens, beet greens, and Swiss chard. Cooking these greens will help to decrease oxalate content. Or, better yet, stick to low-oxalate greens like kale, broccoli, collards, and bok choy.
4. Fortified Plant-Based Milks
There are plenty of plant-based alternatives to cow’s milk on the market. Almond, soy, rice, coconut, and hemp milks are some of the most popular options. These milk alternatives are perfect alternatives to cow’s milk especially when they are fortified with calcium. One cup of calcium fortified almond milk gives 450 mg of calcium which is almost half of our daily needs!
Dried figs are an incredibly rich source of calcium! Ten dried figs contain 140 mg of calcium. Plus, they're delicious raw, made into a fig crumble, or added to salads!
Soy is a great source of calcium, not to mention plant-based protein and plenty of fiber. One cup of boiled edamame has 175 mg of calcium. Enjoy them in their shell as a snack or add shelled edamame to salads and grain bowls.
Tofu can be a rich source of calcium. Depending on the brand and how it’s made, tofu has around 350 mg per 100g of firm tofu but can be higher! Manufactures make tofu with one of two common coagulating agents, either calcium sulfate or nigari (check the ingredient label). Look for tofu made with calcium sulfate to get a dose of calcium with each bite.
Tempeh is a fermented soy product that is a popular meat replacement. It is also a great source of dairy-free calcium. One cup of tempeh contains almost 100 mg of calcium. Try this Vegan Tempeh Sausage or BBQ Tempeh with Cabbage Slaw if tempeh is new to you (or if you're looking for new ways to try this superfood!).
As you can see, it is very possible to consume enough calcium on a plant based diet when you consume a variety of plant-based foods. The key is proper planning, to make sure you are including some of these true superfoods in your everyday diet.
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Hello! My name is Caroline Williams and I am a dietetic intern in Georgia State's coordinated program. I am studying to become a registered dietitian with hopes to one day work in pediatric weight management. Weight management and choosing more plant based foods go hand in hand, so I have become increasingly interested in a plant-based lifestyle!