Calcium From Plant-Based Sources

Present in every single cell of our bodies, calcium plays a major role in our overall health and wellness. Out of all the minerals contained within us, calcium is one of the most abundant, and for good reason, too. This particular nutrient is essential to the body’s most significant physiological functions. Those functions include the controlled expansion and contraction of blood vessels and muscles, as well as the secretion of hormones and enzymes and transmission of signals throughout the nervous system (3).

Curly Kale: A Good Source of CalciumWhen the body is not obtaining sufficient amounts of calcium, there are likely to be adverse effects. The consequences of calcium deficiency include poor bone mass, rickets, abnormal fetal development during pregnancy, and osteoporosis in postmenopausal women and the elderly (2).

It cannot be stressed enough how vital it is that we regularly provide our bodies with the proper amount of calcium. It is a common concern of vegans and vegetarians that they may not be getting enough calcium in their diets. The best part about calcium, though, is that it is easy to find if you know where to look.

The World Health Organization recommends a daily calcium intake of 400 to 500 milligrams. And contrary to popular belief, it is actually more to the body’s advantage for our calcium to come from plant-based sources, rather than animal sources. This is because plants and plant-based foods are more absorbable than animal sources, due to the human body being better able to digest, break down, and utilize plants’ nutrients. What’s more, in the attempt to get calcium from meat instead of plants, the body takes in the highly acidic protein contents of the meat, causing the loss of one milligram of calcium for every gram of protein consumed (1).

Foods Rich in Calcium

Since it is more effective to obtain our daily calcium requirement through plant-based sources, it is important to know where to find these sources. In just the category of leafy greens, there are numerous (and delicious) options available. These include spinach, kale, various lettuces, rhubarb, broccoli, and collard, mustard, and turnip greens (1). Significant amounts of calcium can also be found in sea vegetables like hijiki (648 milligrams in just one cup), which can be delectably paired with noodles or stir-fried tofu dishes, and kelp, which can be used as a high-calcium, high-iodine substitute for salt (4).

Vegan chef, Beverly Lynn Bennett, provides a glimpse of what she refers to as plant-based powerhouses – vegan foods with rich calcium content. This list includes: 1 cup tofu (516mg of calcium), 1 cup cooked collard greens (358mg), 1½ cups calcium-fortified oatmeal (326mg), 1 cup calcium-fortified orange juice (270mg), 10 medium figs (270mg), 1 cup cooked spinach (244mg), and 1 cup cooked white beans (160mg).

In addition, nearly all soy foods contain calcium naturally, and many are also fortified to increase the natural amount. Some examples of soy products that are especially rich in calcium include soy milk, nondairy cheeses, okara (a by-product of soy milk and tofu production), tempeh, and mock meats like veggie burgers (1).

And that’s still not all. In the category of grains and cereals, significant amounts of calcium can be found in quinoa, amaranth, corn, wheat, and brown rice. And since not all non-animal calcium sources can fall under a particular category, the miscellaneous sources include nuts, seeds, dried fruits, and even blackstrap molasses (1).
Foods rich in calcium chart

Supplements and Advice from Your Doctor

Generic-Bottle-Of-Calcium3With all of these available options for obtaining calcium in our diets, there are plenty of opportunities to get the nutrients we need. Not only that, but there are countless ways to pair and prepare these different foods to appease our various tastes. If you feel as though you are still unable to consume an adequate amount of calcium on a regular basis, it may be suggested that you start on a supplement regimen to ensure that your body’s needs are met. However, you should always consult your doctor if you have any concerns.

Image: Curly kale. Source/Author: Rasbak on wikimedia.org. 25 April 2005. Access the original image here: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Boerenkool.jpg

References (click to show/hide)

  1. Bennett, Beverly L. "Plant-Based Calcium: Sources and Absorbability." Vegan Vegetarian Recipes VegKitchencom. N.p., 2010. Web. http://www.vegkitchen.com/nutrition/calcium/.
  2. Bhatia, V. "Dietary Calcium Intake - a Critical Reappraisal." Dietary Calcium Intake – a Critical Reappraisal (n.d.): n. pag. Indian J Med Res 127, 2008. Web. http://icmr.nic.in/ijmr/2008/march/0309.pdf.
  3. "Indian Nutrition Chart Showing Calcium Rich Foods." FitJog. N.p., 2010. Web. http://www.fitjog.com/indian-nutrition-charts/calcium-rich-fruits.php.
  4. Venokur-Clark, Rachel. "6 Sea Vegetables for Optimum Health." Care2. N.p., 17 Oct. 2011. Web. http://www.care2.com/greenliving/six-sea-vegetables-for-optimum-health.html.

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