Let's Raise a Glass to Cow-less Calcium!
“Milk, it does a body good” - a saying most of us are all too familiar with. This was one of the first things that came to mind when I hopped aboard the vegan train 8 years ago. “But what about [insert random nutrient I assumed could only come from animal based foods - in this case, calcium]?!” If cow’s milk is the key to bone health, then what are vegans to do to build up bones after dumping dairy?
I was rather shocked to hear that while dairy is a rich source of calcium, there are numerous plant-based foods that are equally as rich in this bone boosting nutrient. Not only are there plenty of vegan calcium sources, but there is also no long term scientific data to suggest that plant-based calcium is in any way inferior to dairy based calcium when it comes to building strong bones. (1) I’ll raise a tall glass of low calorie, high-calcium almond milk to that!
When it comes to daily values, adults age 19-50 years and men 51-70 years need 1000 mg of calcium per day. 1200 mg is recommended for women over 51 and men over 70. (2) Where is one to get all this cow-free calcium? Take a look at how whole milk compares to vegan sources.
Whole cow’s milk (8 oz.): 276 mg (28% of daily recommended value)
Almond Breeze (8 oz.): 450 mg (45%)
Blackstrap molasses (2 Tbsp.): 400 mg (40%)
Silk Fruity and Creamy yogurt (5.3 oz): 200 mg (20%)
Kale (2 cups, chopped): 180 mg (18%)
Woodstock Organic Extra Firm Tofu (3 oz.): 150 mg (15%)
Nasoya Organic Extra Firm Tofu (3 oz.): 60 mg (6%)
For other great plant sources of calcium, check out this list from The Vegetarian Resource Group.
One source of calcium folks tend to falsely assume is ideal is spinach. While spinach is indeed high in calcium, its bioavailabity - the percentage of calcium that is absorbed into the body - is low. This is because oxalates present in spinach hinder absorption. But before you pry the spinach can out of Popeye’s hand, keep in mind that while spinach is not the best source of calcium, it’s a low-calorie food that is rich in vitamins A, C, K, folate, iron, magnesium and potassium.
For those who might be ready to board the vegan or dairy-free train, go ahead and scratch calcium off of your “Things to Worry About” list. As long as you make sure you are eating plant-based foods high in calcium (something all folks should do, regardless of diet), you’ll have that base covered.
1 - American Academy of Pediatrics: Optimizing Bone Health and Calcium Intakes of Infants, Children, and Adolescents.
2 - National Institute of Health: Calcium.