The dairy industry has long claimed its products as the reigning champions of calcium sources. Fortunately, if you decide to stop eating animal products and dairy, you don't have to watch your bones weaken and waste away – there are plenty of rich non-dairy sources of calcium that allow you to maintain a healthy body on a plant-based diet.
Cow's milk certainly has some health benefits to offer, but the old 'Milk, it does a body good' campaign slogan probably won't fly these days, with all of the new research and information available to us.
Choosing to cut dairy products from your diet doesn't mean you'll struggle to get enough calcium, one of the most prominent features marketed with every cow's milk product.
The truth is, there are plenty of vegan calcium sources that we can add to any vegan diet to help boost calcium intake and reap many calcium benefits.
Read below to learn all about the importance of non-dairy calcium in the vegan diet and how to include many calcium-rich vegan foods into every meal easily!
What Is Calcium?
Calcium is a micronutrient, specifically a mineral that all organisms need to survive, including humans. Our bodies contain higher levels of calcium than any other essential mineral.
Keep in mind, 99% of calcium lives in our bones and teeth, so we generally associate the mineral with bone health – and while it is a key player in that role, calcium supports us by performing a number of other bodily functions, too.
You can find calcium naturally occurring in many foods, and manufacturers add it to even more of them.
Why We Need Calcium: Essential Body Functions & Bone Health
Why is calcium important?
As we mentioned, calcium is essential for all things bone maintenance. It helps bones grow and slows bone density loss, an unavoidable part of the body's aging process.
Post-menopausal women are at a much higher risk of developing osteoporosis, making a sufficient calcium intake essential to reduce the risks as much as possible.
Calcium also helps regulate proper muscle contraction, as it allows the proteins in the muscle to work to contract when a nerve stimulates the muscle to move.
Blood clotting is a complex process that requires calcium, along with a whole range of essential chemicals.
Calcium aids in balancing blood pressure and heart function. The heart is a muscle, and just as calcium aids the process of other muscles, it also helps to relax the muscle that surrounds our blood vessels to promote better flow.
This essential mineral connects to healthy cholesterol levels within the body.
Veganism and Bone Health
The great news for vegans is that you don't have to choose between sacrificing your values or bone health! It's entirely possible to eat plant-based and consume enough plant calcium.
Although a vegan diet contains no cow's milk, it can be high in calcium with the help of calcium-rich vegetables like dark leafy greens, legumes, and calcium-fortified plant-based foods.
While consuming calcium on a vegan diet can still happen, it requires some research to find adequate vegan foods high in calcium that will fit into your daily diet. The reason that some studies link vegans to a higher risk of bone fracture isn't that there is something inherently flawed in the roots of veganism – like any other diet, it's possible to do veganism well or not to do it well.
Another misconception about calcium and bone health is that a vegan diet protects against bone loss due to its more alkaline, lower acid nature. New studies show this isn't true – relative diet alkalinity has a minimal effect on bone loss, from the results researchers see.
The dairy industry is massive and has a ton of money to back and promote its products, and to some degree, marketing is very effective. While we don't want to knock what they're doing, we think it's crucial to spread the word that despite what these advertisements imply, you can find many, many dietary sources of calcium that will fit into any diet.
There is as much calcium in a serving of collard greens or tofu as in cow's milk.
Oxalates, Vitamin D, and Calcium Absorption
Leafy greens contain quite a bit of calcium and oxalic acid, or oxalates. Oxalates interfere with calcium absorption, and certain greens contain more of it than others.
Vitamin D also aids calcium absorption, so to get enough calcium in your diet, it's crucial to keep a close watch on your vitamin D intake.
Recommended Calcium Daily Intake
The recommended daily intake for calcium is 1000 mg and 1200 mg for women over 50. Teens and children should consume 1300 mg daily, given that our bodies will likely absorb about 30% of each source of calcium.
5 Best Vegan Sources of Calcium: How To Get Calcium as a Vegan
#1: Leafy Greens and Cruciferous Vegetables
Spinach, rhubarb, and chard all contain high levels of oxalates, which means eating many of them won't ensure you're getting enough calcium. Consuming these green, leafy vegetables boiled will improve your body's ability to absorb the calcium, as oxalates leach into the boiling water.
Collard greens, bok-choy, mustard greens, and kale calcium levels make a better dietary source of calcium, with high levels that absorb well – these foods naturally contain less oxalic acid.
Cruciferous veggies are helpful vegan calcium foods; the calcium in broccoli is lower than that in a cup of cooked greens, but there is a limit to how many greens someone can consume in a day without going crazy. Broccoli and other healthy cruciferous veggies are a great way to switch up the vegetables you're eating while keeping calcium consumption high.
#2: Calcium-fortified plant milk
Like cow's milk, soy and other plant milk come fortified with calcium and other essential vitamins and minerals. While soy milk calcium tends to run a little higher than the others, it varies from brand to brand.
#3: Tofu, Tempeh, and Edamame
We process tofu in a few different ways with soymilk and a coagulant. One popular coagulant used is calcium sulfate, which also infuses each tofu block with a load of calcium.
Check your labels to ensure your tofu contains this critical ingredient for a quick calcium boost in your diet. We love to incorporate tofu into any healthy vegan diet because, along with essential minerals, tofu contains lots of protein and is incredibly simple to prepare. All you need is a press like this and a good quality cast-iron pan to make the crispiest tofu morsels!
All soy products contain some calcium – you can find some calcium in tempeh, edamame, and tofu processed with other coagulants.
#4: Beans & Legumes
One of the best vegan foods with calcium is already so essential in a vegan diet: beans and legumes. These provide a ton of protein and fiber in a vegan diet, along with some crucial minerals. Eat black beans, navy beans, and more to up your calcium intake.
#5: Dried Fruit & Fortified Juices
Dried calcium-rich fruits like raisins, figs, and apricots contain essential minerals and add a little sweetness to your day. You can also find fresh fruits high in calcium, like oranges, especially in calcium-fortified orange juice.
Calcium-Rich Foods: Vegan Calcium Breakdown
- ½ Cup tofu with calcium sulfate on its list of ingredients - 200-430 mg
- 2 Tbsp. blackstrap molasses - 400 mg
- ½ Cup tofu processed with nigari - up to 400 mg
- 1 Cup calcium-fortified soy milk - 300 mg
- 1 Cup calcium-fortified plant milk - up to 450 mg
- 1 Cup calcium-fortified orange juice - 350 mg
- 1 Cup plain soy yogurt - 300 mg
- 1 Cup fortified breakfast cereal, dry: 250-1000 mg
- 1 Cup collard greens, cooked - 268 mg
- 1 Cup turnip greens, cooked - 197 mg
- 1 Cup tempeh - 184 mg
- 1 Cup edamame/soybeans, cooked - 175 mg
- 1 Cup mustard greens, cooked - 165 mg
- 1 Cup bok choy, cooked - 158 mg
- 1 Cup navy beans, cooked - 126 mg
- ½ Cup dried figs - 120 mg
- 2 Tbsp almond butter - 111 mg
- 1 serving instant oats - 100 mg
- 1 Cup kale, cooked - 94 mg
- 1 Cup black beans, canned - 84 mg
- 1 Cup fresh orange sections - 70 mg
- 1 Tbsp. tahini, roasted - 64 mg
- 1 cup broccoli, cooked - 31 mg
Final Note: Up Your Daily Calcium Intake With Supplementation
There are plenty of great sources of vegan calcium for you to choose from in your daily diet. But if you still don't think you'll be able to stick to eating enough foods that contain calcium each day, there is no shame in adding a calcium supplement into your daily rotation!
Beware when consuming supplements, as you don't want to go over 1300 mg total calcium ingested each day – choose a tablet that gives you 500-1000 mg and follow the dosage closely. As long as you’re willing to be proactive about your nutrition, you have everything you need to live a very healthy vegan lifestyle!