Following a whole food plant-based diet and not sure how to get calcium now that you've gone dairy-free? No milk, no problem! There's plenty of calcium in plants (and we may actually absorb plant-based calcium better than the calcium found in dairy, anyway). Get strong, healthy bones on a WFPB diet by loading up on these nine surprising sources of vegan calcium.
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Calcium is a mineral that helps muscles, nerves, and cells are work normally – and it helps build up and maintain strong, healthy bones. And its your bones that stores most of your calcium.
Our bodies don't make calcium, which is why we need to get it from food.
Think you need to drink milk for healthy bones? Nutrition research shows otherwise.
As the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine points out, "in a 12-year Harvard study of 78,000 women, those who drank milk three times a day actually broke more bones than women who rarely drank milk. Similarly, a 1994 study of elderly men and women in Sydney, Australia, showed that higher dairy product consumption was associated with increased fracture risk. Those with the highest dairy product consumption had approximately double the risk of hip fracture compared to those with the lowest consumption."
Not to mention, dairy consumption is linked to a higher risk of developing conditions such as cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and an overall risk of death.
And what you may not know is that while eating calcium-rich foods is important, calcium absorption is key for healthy bones, as well. Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium and controls how your body uses calcium so getting outside is essential. (Only 15 minutes a day will generally do the trick!)
Exercise is also important for your bone health. It helps build bone density as active folks are shown to keep calcium in their bones more than those who are sedentary.
OK, back to calcium. The World Health Organization recommends 1000 mg of calcium per day for adults. While this may sound like a lot, it's actually quite easy to do...no dairy necessary! Load up on these WFPB foods.
1. Green, leafy vegetables
Broccoli, cabbage, collard greens, kale, and bok choy are just a few green vegetables that are brimming with plant-based calcium. Note that certain leafy greens, such as spinach, beet greens and chard are high in oxalates, compounds that bind calcium and reduce its absorption.
One of our favorite ways to get our greens in? This creamy vegan broccoli soup!
2. Calcium-set tofu
Calcium content in tofu depends on the type of coagulant used in the manufacturing process. Tofu made with calcium sulfate as the coagulant is high in calcium, so make sure to read the packaging to make sure you get the right tofu.
Don't like tofu? Here's the secret to making delicious tofu every time.
Rather not cook? Add MamaSezz vegan ricotta-style tomato bake to your next plant-based meal bundle – made with blended cashews and tofu.
Another soy product, tempeh is made with fermented soybeans, and it's naturally high in calcium (and an excellent source of plant-based protein!). Tempeh is also good for your gut, thanks to the fermentation process which provides it with some of that “good bacteria” you need for a diverse microbiome.
Wondering how to prepare tempeh at home? Here are some of our favorite easy WFPB recipes featuring tempeh.
4. Sesame seeds and tahini
Sesame seeds are tiny calcium powerhouses! They've got high amounts of calcium, and can be enjoyed as they are, or blended into creamy delicious tahini.
Keep in mind, however, that sesame seeds contain natural compounds called oxalates and phytates, which reduce the absorption of calcium. A quick roasting in a pan limits the impact these compounds have on calcium absorption and give a deeper, richer flavor to the seeds.
Dress up those leafy greens from #1 with this oil-free calcium-rich tahini dressing.
5. Beans, peas, and lentils
Pulses are very high in calcium and protein – they're also immunity-boosting rockstars. Make sure to include at least three servings of lentils or beans in your diet daily for optimal bone health.
6. Dried fruit, such as dates, prunes, raisins, figs, and apricots
Dried fruits, especially figs, are high in calcium and make the perfect snacks for the whole family. You can also add them in salads to complement the calcium of your favorite leafy greens.
Satiate your sweet tooth and get your plant-based calcium in one fell swoop with the MamaSezz Not-A-Cookie – a sweet treat for your healthy diet, made with 100% whole food plant-based ingredients (including dates and raisins!).
Seaweed, such as wakame and kelp, are great sources of plant-based calcium.
Wakame salads are a great way to get your calcium, especially if you sprinkle a few teaspoons of toasted sesame seeds on top. Or let MamaSezz do the cooking for you when you order our vegan Tuna "Ish" salad – made with fresh Maine kelp.
8. Ancient Grains
Ancient grains are a group of grains and pseudocereals. They are packed with minerals, fiber, and protein and undergo less processing than corn, rice, and other modern grains. Amaranth and teff, in particular, are very high in calcium and deserve a place in your plate (and in your heart).
Amaranth can be used like most grains – add it to plant-based Buddha bowls, soups, salads. Teff has a super small seed and is similar to polenta in texture when cooked, making it ideal for porridge or to grind up and use as gluten-free flour (like in these vegan muffins!).
Your morning oatmeal contains more than 10% of your daily recommended calcium amount!
- You don't need to drink milk or eat dairy products to get calcium!
- The calcium from milk isn't absorbed as well by the body as plant-based sources – plus dairy is linked with increased risk for health issues ranging from heart disease to certain types of cancer.
- To make sure the calcium in your body does its job and builds those healthy bones, add exercise and Vitamin D into your daily regimen as well.
- Get all the calcium you need from whole plant-based sources like grean leafy veggies, tofu, tempeh, sesame seeds and tahini, beans and legumes, dried fruit, seaweed, ancient grains, and oats!
Rafaela Michailidou is a Vegan Lifestyle Coach, and a freelance health and wellness content writer, with a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.