Vegan Calcium Sources: Non-Dairy Calcium Rich Foods
There is a huge misconception transferred from generation to generation that humans need cow’s milk to obtain their health.
We are the only species on Earth that intentionally drink milk from another species.
Most non-vegans are concerned that those who follow a plant-based lifestyle have challenges with their protein intake and include other nutrients, vitamins, and minerals in their diet.
Calcium is one of the terms that often pop up in arguments against vegan nutrition.
The truth is, people do not need dairy milk, what they need is calcium.
Even though dairy milk is a source of calcium, it is also a source of unsaturated fat which increases the risk of developing cardiovascular issues, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.
But enough about ‘regular’ milk, let’s dive into the importance of calcium and a much better way to obtain the required intake of this mineral—through a plant-based lifestyle.
In this article, we will discover all the calcium-rich foods for bones and how to increase calcium in our bodies on a plant-based diet.
Best Vegan Calcium Foods and Sources
So, we have already established that milk and other animal products are not the only sources of calcium and that we can easily reach our daily required intake of this mineral through a vegan diet.
There are so many calcium-rich fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and legumes that are probably already incorporated into your diet, that you didn’t even know contain a fair amount of this essential mineral.
We will list some of them in the following sections.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits are refreshing, tasty, and extremely healthy.
Most fruits contain a lot of antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, which makes them crucial for our nutrition.
Some of the fruits that contain a lot of calcium and that are also relatively available, delicious, and easy to include in your diet are:
- Tangerines and oranges (these citrus fruits are also high in potassium and vitamin C)
- Blackberries, blackcurrants, and raspberries
Figs and apricots can be consumed in a dry or fresh form.
Both contain a fair amount of calcium but bear in mind that they are not exactly two sides of the same coin.
Dried fruits are higher in calories in comparison to the same fruit which is consumed fresh.
Also, store-bought dried fruits might contain sugar, as well as additives. So don’t forget to check the label before purchasing such products.
Vegetables containing high amounts of calcium mostly include leafy greens.
Vegetables like spinach and rhubarb are high in oxalate (oxalic acid).
Oxalate is a type of antinutrient. Antinutrients, as opposed to nutrients, make it difficult for our body to absorb the nutrients it requires.
Some claim that raw veganism is the healthiest, while others disagree.
Experts state that vegetables should be boiled (more effective than steamed or baked) because the oxalates discharge in the boiling water, which makes the calcium in the boiled veggies easier for our system to absorb and use properly.
If you are a raw vegan, choose vegetables that are low in oxalates, such as broccoli and kale.
Here are some vegetables that are high in calcium:
- Brussels sprouts
Vegetables are a vital part of most plant-based meals, so incorporating these high-calcium ingredients in your everyday diet should not be a problem.
Beans and Legumes
Legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, soy, and all types of beans, are a vital part of a plant-based diet for most vegans.
They are affordable, tasty, easy to cook, and healthy. They are packed with protein and help vegans achieve their required protein intake.
They also contain a lot of fiber and vital minerals, they keep us full for a long time and can be prepared and served in so many ways.
Thanks to their nutritional profile they help reduce LDL cholesterol (also known as bad cholesterol) and make your system more prone to severe diseases such as diabetes and heart issues.
One of the numerous benefits of legumes is that they contain a high level of calcium. Here we will list some of them:
- Soy (and of course all its products such as different types of tofu, tempeh, soy milk, etc.)
- Winged (goa) beans
- White kidney (cannellini) beans
- Black-eyed peas
- Red kidney beans
- Lentils (brown, green, or red)
The only downfall is that this food group, just like vegetables, also contains some antinutrients that make it difficult for our bodies to absorb necessary minerals.
Don’t worry though, just like this problem was solved by boiling the vegetables, legumes can be soaked (‘activated’) and that will ease the process of mineral absorption.
Also, dark leafy greens are an important source of vitamin K1 that converts to K2 by gut bacteria. Vitamin K2 activates a specific protein that removes calcium from soft tissues, and it also activates osteocalcin, which holds calcium to bone and boosts it’s absorption.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are not only a vegan favorite go-to snack but have a wide variety of health benefits.
Both nuts and seeds are a food group that is high in fiber, protein, healthy fat, and a lot of crucial minerals and vitamins.
Some of the most calcium-rich food items from this group are:
- Brazil nuts
- poppy seeds
- sesame seeds
- sunflower seeds
- chia seeds
- flax seeds
- hemp seeds
All nuts have some amount of calcium, but almonds have the highest levels, while Brazil nuts are in second place.
This mineral can also be found in macadamia nuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, and walnuts, among others.
Also, milk and butter made from some of these (for example, almond milk and tahini—sesame seed butter) are a source of calcium as well.
Not many grains contain a significant amount of calcium. Here are three grains that have a high level of this mineral:
All of the above are gluten-free (which makes them suitable for those who suffer from Celiac disease or are gluten intolerant) and packed with a lot of beneficial nutrients.
Blackstrap Molasses is an underestimated sugar alternative.
It is actually the byproduct of the manufacturing of sugar, which might sound like it is as unhealthy and toxic as regular sugar.
On the contrary — it is one of the healthiest sweeteners.
It is rich in antioxidants, and minerals such as iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamins such as vitamin B6.
Thanks to this, it has numerous health benefits and prevents the development of severe diseases.
And the most important for our article—black molasses is rich in calcium, therefore promoting bone and overall health.
This mineral is crucial for human health. For children, it aids their growth and the development of their bones and teeth.
But it is as important for adults as it is for kids.
The required daily intake depends on the age and gender of the person (as well as some other variables, for example, if they are pregnant).
It is interesting that the required dose also depends on the country that conducted the studies and came to the conclusions.
The UK and US required intakes differ by a couple of hundred milligrams per day.
This indicates that our bodies are flexible and adaptable, and we do not have to strictly measure every milligram of this mineral that enters our bodies.
The important thing is to nurture a whole-food, plant-based, nutritionally balanced diet, and our body will get all the nutrients it needs.
According to the US National Institutes of Health, kids and teens from the age of 9 to 18 need about 1300 mg of calcium, adults need 1000 mg until the age of 50 when the intake slowly increases (although just for women) and gets to 1200 mg after the age of 70.
Calcium can not be optimally absorbed by our bodies without consuming vitamin D and magnesium.
Both magnesium and vitamin D are crucial for our health, so you should focus on their intake and incorporate them into your diet (and cautiously expose yourself to the sun).
Except for its main role in bone and teeth maintenance, calcium is also essential for a lot of other processes in our bodies—such as muscle movement, blood clotting, and regulating blood pressure.
When the body detects insufficient calcium circulating throughout the organism, it uses calcium from the bones, resulting in osteoporosis, which is characterized by fragile bones.
An adequate intake of calcium prevents the development of this disease.
Calcium, and other minerals, are extremely important for our health.
Essential minerals can not be produced by our bodies. They come from the food we consume.
That is why it is crucial to maintain a nutritionally balanced diet that will provide our body with the minerals it requires.
Signs of Calcium Deficiency
As we’ve already discussed, calcium is one of the nutrients that we do not have to strictly measure before consuming since our bodies tend to adapt to the available amount of this mineral.
Of course, this does not mean you should neglect your daily required calcium intake.
A lack of this mineral can have devastating consequences on our bone (and overall) health.
However, most patients with calcium deficiency tend to consume enough calcium in their diet.
The source of this problem is usually connected to kidney or parathyroid gland issues, which decrease the calcium in the circulatory system.
Here are some mild symptoms and the first signs of calcium deficiency:
- muscle cramps or spasms
- numbness or tingling (particularly in the fingertips and jawline)
- muscle spasms (mainly in the hands)
- weak or brittle fingernails
- difficulty swallowing
- occasionally vomiting
If this issue is left untreated, a person can develop severe symptoms such as:
- confusion and irritability
- anxiety and depression
- tooth erosion
- growth and development problems, especially in children
- bone fractures
- heart problems
So, if you are experiencing some of these signs, call your doctor, check your kidneys and parathyroid glands, and reorganize your diet and calcium intake.
Should Vegans Take Calcium Supplements?
For a long time, experts have believed calcium supplements were relatively safe.
The conducted studies always showed the side effects of these supplements which included heart failure.
But it was also assumed that they prevent hip fractures. So it was concluded that these supplements have more advantages than disadvantages.
Even if that were true, calcium supplements do not seem safe enough because of the risks of heart attack and stroke.
However, even the assumption that it reduces the risk of hip fractures is not correct.
It comes from a study that was conducted on experimental groups that were in a very specific situation. Therefore, the results of the experiment should not be generalized.
So, in short, not only do calcium supplements increase the risks of cardiovascular problems, but they also do not help reduce the risk of bone fractures.
Of course, none of the risks above apply to natural calcium consumed through plant-based food.
According to Dr. Michael Greger and like-minded experts, calcium supplements should not be used.
Calcium is an essential mineral that has a huge impact on our bones and teeth, as well as muscle movement, blood clotting, and blood pressure.
The most common source of this mineral is cow’s milk, however, there are numerous plant-based foods that are high in calcium.
These include leafy greens such as spinach and broccoli and some fruit like dry or raw figs and apricots.
Then there are legumes, nuts, and seeds like soy (including tofu, soy milk, etc.) beans, almonds, Brazilian nuts, sesame, and chia seeds…
Even some grains and a sweetener called Blackstrap Molasses contain a significant amount of this mineral.
Calcium deficiency can cause mild to severe symptoms and can lead to osteoporosis. It usually comes from more severe health problems (kidney and parathyroid gland issues).
Nevertheless, you should focus on including high-calcium vegan food in your everyday diet to avoid the risk of developing a calcium deficiency.
Calcium supplements are not nearly as effective as calcium obtained through food. They should not be used.
Maintain a healthy, nutritionally balanced, plant-based, and whole foods diet, and you will easily reach the required intake of calcium.
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