It’s not hard to get enough dietary calcium if you consume dairy products, but what if you’re lactose intolerant or eat a vegan diet? That makes it a bit more challenging. Calcium is an essential mineral and the most abundant mineral in bones and teeth. Plus, you need calcium on a minute-by-minute basis to support muscle, heart, and nerve function. How much calcium you need each day?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Women ages 19 to 50 need 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day.
- Women over 50 need 1,200 milligrams a day.
- Men under 70 need 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day.
- Men over 70 also need 1,200 milligrams a day.
You don’t need to take supplements to get enough calcium in your diet. You can get those nutrients from food sources alone. Dairy is a good source of calcium, but if you eat a vegan diet, dairy is not an option. But there are still plenty of plant-based foods that can supply your daily calcium. Let’s look at some of the best.
Calcium-Fortified Orange Juice
You might drink orange juice in the morning to get your vitamin C but you’re also getting a healthy dose of calcium when you sip a glass of calcium-fortified orange juice. How much? A whopping 300 milligrams, about as much as you get from a glass of dairy milk.
One drawback to getting calcium in this form is the sugar in fruit juice. Even fruit juice without added sugar isn’t healthy if you have type 2 diabetes. So, don’t overdo orange juice to the point it spikes your blood sugar. You have other options for getting enough calcium.
Calcium-Fortified Plant-Based Milk
One serving of fortified plant-based milk has about the same amount of calcium as in a serving of cow’s milk. This is great news for those who don’t want to drink cow’s milk or have trouble digesting it.
There are many types of plant-based milks available, such as soy, almond, coconut and even hemp. Look for those fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and other vitamins and minerals.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), most brands of soy, almond and coconut milks are fortified with nutrients, including calcium, but always read the label to verify that. For example, fortified soy milk contains around 300 milligrams of calcium, roughly the amount in dairy milk.
Firm types of tofu are made by pressing curds of soy milk into blocks. You can find tofu prepared with calcium sulfate (also called calcium salts) as part of the coagulation process in the refrigerated section of many supermarkets and in natural foods stores.
The amount of calcium in tofu depends on how much coagulant was used to curdle the soy milk. The firmer the tofu, the higher its calcium content:
One half-cup firm tofu has 253 mg of calcium
One half-cup soft of silken tofu has 138 mg of calcium
One cup of fortified soymilk has around 300 mg of calcium
One cup of tempeh has around 180 mg of calcium.
Tofu is an excellent source of protein with all nine essential amino acids your body needs but can’t make. It is also a valuable plant source of iron, calcium, manganese, selenium and phosphorous. Furthermore, tofu contains minerals, including magnesium, copper, and zinc, and some B vitamins.
Plant-based calcium sources include leafy greens, most of which also provide a decent dose of vitamin K. Vitamin K is crucial for bone and heart health and helps your blood clot when you get a cut. Leafy greens that contain calcium (and are also rich in vitamin K) include kale, collard greens and turnip greens.
The downside is that these foods also contain oxalic acid, which binds to calcium making much of it unavailable for absorption. Oxalic acid is not a problem when you eat these foods occasionally, but if you eat them every day, consider cooking them lightly or steaming them to reduce the oxalate content.
Figs are a surprisingly good source of calcium, with 5 dried figs containing around 135 milligrams of calcium. In addition, figs are an excellent source of iron, magnesium, and potassium. Figs contain both soluble and insoluble dietary fiber which helps lower cholesterol levels. Plus, the soluble fiber in figs helps prevent a rapid rise in blood sugar despite their natural sweetness.
Figs are also rich in natural antioxidants, including epicatechins, chlorogenic acid, rutin, and gallic acid. These compounds shield your cells against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that contribute to aging and various disease processes. Darker figs contain more antioxidants than lighter varieties.
Broccoli is a nutrient dense vegetable with around 68 milligrams of broccoli per half cup of cooked broccoli. But you get so much more when you eat broccoli. It’s a cruciferous vegetable that belongs to the cabbage family. It is rich in antioxidants, including kaempferol, flavonoids, beta-carotene, and chemicals called glucosinolates. Your body converts glucosinolates to compounds that have anticancer potential in animal studies.
Broccoli is rich in a variety of nutrients, including fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, iron, and potassium. The nutritional content of broccoli varies depending on how you cook it. Boiling or microwaving broccoli causes some nutrients, especially vitamin C, to leach out into the water. So, enjoy it raw or lightly steamed.
If you’re looking for a crunchy, calcium-rich snack, skip the chips and grab a handful of almonds. Just 2 tablespoons of almonds provide 50 milligrams of calcium. Plus, almonds pack a powerful nutritional punch. Just one ounce, or approximately 23 almonds, contains 162 calories, 6 grams of protein and 14 grams of heart-healthy unsaturated fat. Almonds are also rich in fiber, vitamin E, and minerals such as magnesium, copper, and manganese.
Nuts like almonds have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease in numerous studies. They are also associated with a lower cholesterol level and healthier blood vessel function. That’s because nuts are rich in unsaturated fatty acids, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
The Bottom Line
It’s possible to get enough calcium from plant-based sources alone and now you know some of the most calcium-rich, plant-based foods. Enjoy a variety!
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