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Right after “Where do vegans get their protein?,” the most often asked question is “Where do vegans get their calcium?” Since this usually comes from someone who rarely looks at their own diet and nutrition, the vegan being asked might be permitted a small chuckle.
But nutrition is no joke and we owe it to ourselves to understand calcium, its importance in overall health and how to make sure we meet our daily needs for this nutrient.
Our bodies are designed to grow for much of our life. In the same way that protein enables growth, new bone breaks down and is remade, cell by cell. When you are young, new bone is made at a faster rate than the old bone is breaking down, so your bone mass increases. But after age 30, this rate changes and new bone is not being made as fast as old bones are breaking down.
Decreased bone mass can lead to osteoporosis, a bone disease in which bones become weak and brittle. The National Osteoporosis Foundation describes it as:
“Osteoporosis means “porous bone.” Viewed under a microscope, healthy bone looks like a honeycomb. When osteoporosis occurs, the holes and spaces in the honeycomb are much larger than in healthy bone. Osteoporotic bones have lost density or mass and contain abnormal tissue structure. As bones become less dense, they weaken and are more likely to break. “
Factors that Affect Bone Health
Calcium in your diet
if you don’t have enough daily calcium, this may put you at risk for decreased bone density and fractures.
Vitamin D deficiency
Calcium and Vitamin D are partners in bone health. Vitamin D facilitates the absorption of calcium. You can get enough vitamin D absorption by spending as little as 10 minutes in the sun (this varies by skin color and geographical location), but most fortified food products, such as soy milk and orange juice, also contain RDA of Vitamin D.
There is a much higher risk of osteoporosis with inactivity as we get older. Not all exercise is as impactful on bone health as strength training. This is why there is an emphasis on weight bearing exercise as a part of overall training in the fitness industry. Working with weights, equipment or using your own body weight in certain exercises, helps build bone mass.
This is an important consideration for women as we get older. As estrogen levels drop, so does bone mass. Men are also affected in the same way with dropping testosterone levels. Consult your doctor to get advice on natural and pharmaceutical recommendations.
Other factors that can impact bone loss
- Gender – women are at greater risk for osteoporosis because they have less bone tissue.
- Tobacco and alcohol consumption – recent research states that tobacco use and having more than 1-2 alcoholic drinks per day increases bone loss.
- Race and Family History – Osteoporosis is higher in White and Asian populations. Additionally, if you have a family history of osteoporosis, you may be at higher risk.
The Food & Nutritional Board’s daily recommended allowance (RDA) for calcium is:
|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||1,300 mg||1,300 mg|
|19-50 years||1,000 mg||1,000 mg||1,000 mg||1,000 mg|
|51-70 years||1,000 mg||1,200 mg|
|71+ years||1,200 mg||1,200 mg|
Now that you know what calcium does, how much you need, and the risks of having inadequate calcium in your diet, we can look at the question.
Where DO vegans get their calcium?
Here is just a sampling of plant-based sources of calcium. If you go read Where Do Vegans Get Their Protein?, you’ll see that many of these are also great sources of protein, so by making them part of your diet, you’ll be getting twice the nutritional value. Combine protein and calcium rich greens and beans in one dish and you have a powerhouse!
- Pinto Beans, 1 cup – 80 mg
- Collard Greens, 1 cup cooked – 357 mg
- Dried Figs, ½ cup – 34 mg
- Almonds, ¼ cup 94 mg
- Tempeh, 1 cup 184mg
- Mustard Greens 1 cup cooked – 152 mg
- Navy Beans, 1 cup – 126 mg
- Turnip Greens, 1 cup cooked – 197 mg
- Tofu, 4 oz – 130-400 mg (check package)
- Broccoli, 1 cup – 180 mg
- Edamame, 1 cup – 175 mg
- Bok Choy, 1 cup cooked – 140 mg
- Commercial plain soy yogurt, 6 oz – 300 mg
- Fortified non-dairy milk, 8 oz – 200-500 mg (check container)
- Almond butter, 2 Tablespoons – 111 mg
- Fortified orange juice, 8 oz – 350 mg
- Quinoa, 1 cup cooked, 60-100 mg
A note about fortified foods, like nut milks, orange juice and tofu. Opinions vary on these, with some vegans feeling that fortified foods are unnecessary if you pay close attention to your diet and make sure you hit your calcium numbers every day.
My feeling is that it is impractical to monitor nutrients day in, day out. Once you understand the sources of protein, calcium, iron and other nutrients in a varied, balanced plant-based diet, you should be able to make healthy daily choices in the food you consume without overly worrying about exact numbers. Things even out over several days. There are times, however, when your diet is not varied enough and doesn’t provide proper calcium levels. Adding fortified foods is an individual choice, but I see no reason why they should not be a part of your daily diet.
Calcium Supplements – To Take Them or Not?
Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of New York Times’ best seller Eat to Live and The End of Diabetes, and a specialist in nutritional medicine, has a very carefully calibrated (and vegan) calcium supplement available designed to support bone, immune, cardiovascular, neurological and colon function and normal cell growth. I highly recommend Osteo-Biotect.
His website is full of medically-based articles on nutrition and how to select healthy vitamins and addresses over consumption of vitamins as well. Click on the link below and be sure to use the code at checkout to get $20 off orders over $200!
For orders over $100, the code is LS10OFF100.
So the next time someone asks you “Where do vegans get their calcium?” amaze them with your knowledge and ask them where they are getting their calcium. Maybe you could give them a few tips.