When thinking of the mineral calcium, you may be reminded of those ‘got milk?’ ads from the ’90s and early 2000s but we know that milk isn’t the only source of calcium. Meeting our recommended amount of daily vegan calcium can be easily achieved with a mindful vegan lifestyle.
What is calcium?
Calcium is a mineral that our body needs to get through the foods we eat. It is stored in our bones and teeth. Maintaining bone health may be calcium’s most well-known role but this mineral has other important functions in the body not to be overlooked.
Calcium also helps with muscle function, nerve communication, blood clotting, and hormone release.
Why is any of this important?
Many people do not get the recommended daily amount of calcium and certain groups are at a high risk of developing a calcium deficiency including postmenopausal women and women of childbearing age. As we age, we experience greater bone loss and our ability to absorb calcium also becomes less efficient.
Maintaining Healthy Bones
Our body draws stored calcium from bones to maintain a specific level of calcium in our bloodstream. If too much is taken from the bone, in cases where the intake of calcium is inadequate, we can experience bone mass losses. This can lead to increased fracture risk.
Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bone has become porous and therefore, weakened. Naturally, bone tissue is continually broken down and replaced by new tissue. If the intake of calcium is low, new bone tissue production has difficulty keeping up with the normal rate of bone loss. In this case, a bone fracture can be experienced with mild stress including light pressure and even coughing. Common fractures occur to the wrist, hip, and spine.
Women are at higher risk than men of developing osteoporosis as they tend to have a younger onset of bone loss when compared with men. Individuals with smaller body frames and thus less bone mass stored are also at a higher risk of experiencing osteoporosis. Weight-bearing exercise and a healthy diet with adequate calcium intake can help bones maintain their strength.
Maintaining Healthy Blood Pressure
Adequate calcium intake is also associated with lowering blood pressure in adults.
High blood pressure or hypertension is a common condition that can lead to heart and kidney disease. The force (pressure) of blood causes the heart to work harder to pump blood throughout the body and can lead to arterial damage. Many people experience no symptoms of hypertension which is why blood pressure is checked during most visits with your healthcare team.
Women have a higher risk of experiencing hypertension if they are overweight and have a family history. Be sure to include calcium foods each day to promote a healthy blood pressure range.
How much calcium do I need?
Here are the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) of calcium in milligrams per day based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These reflect the needs of most individuals without other health concerns.
|Children age 4 – 8||1,000 mg|
|Children age 9 – 18||1,300 mg|
|Adults age 19 – 50||1,000 mg|
|Assigned female at birth age 51+||1,200 mg|
|Assigned male at birth age 51+||1,000 mg|
What about Vitamin D?
While the focus of this article is calcium, vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium so it is worth mentioning here. Vitamin D is not actually a vitamin at all. It is a pre-hormone that was misnamed as a vitamin and the name stuck.
We can get vitamin D through foods like mushrooms exposed to UV light, fortified orange juice, and milk alternatives. It is also uniquely produced in our body when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet rays from the sun. The exact amount of sun exposure to reach vitamin D requirements is debated and it’s important to note that skin cancer risk is increased with prolonged exposure to the sun without protection.
Vitamin D is crucial in promoting calcium absorption in order to maintain an appropriate calcium level in the blood. *Remember – it’s that calcium level in the blood that determines if calcium will need to be drawn out of our bones*
For this reason, you will often find calcium supplements that also contain vitamin D. In supplements, look for vitamin D2 as this form is plant-based while vitamin D3 may be animal-derived unless noted on the packaging.
What vegan foods are sources of calcium?
Green leafy vegetables like bok choy, Chinese cabbage, kale, mustard greens, and collard greens contain calcium. Tahini, most tofu brands, soymilk, milk alternatives, fortified cereals, vegan yogurts, and fortified orange juice also contain this essential mineral.
Look for calcium sulfate in the ingredient list when buying tofu. Calcium is commonly used as a coagulating agent for making tofu thus making it high in calcium. There are endless ways of enjoying tofu which can be a great opportunity for vegans to include high calcium food in their meals.
Calcium Rich Fruits
Calcium Rich Vegetables
Do I Need Calcium Supplement?
Food first is always a good motto to go by. However, it’s important to take a look at the foods you are consistently eating in order to ensure you are getting an adequate amount of calcium each day.
Check food labels (be sure to consider serving sizes) of your favorite foods for calcium. It will be listed as milligrams on the nutrition facts panel. Keep a food diary for 2 or 3 days and include the milligrams of calcium consumed on an average day.
Do you consistently reach the RDA (see chart above) of calcium for your age group? If not, can you easily add a vegan source of calcium to get to the recommended amount?
If supplementation is needed, work with your healthcare team to find the best supplement for you and your individual health needs.
The importance of calcium in our diet is well known. Living a plant-based lifestyle can be rewarding and can easily include this essential mineral. Take a quick look in your kitchen and identify your favorite calcium-rich vegan foods!